Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

August 31, 2012

Lakeland police lawsuit settled

Two former chiefs receive $250,000

LAKELAND — Two former police chiefs have settled a lawsuit claiming their refusal to arrest people on unsubstantiated charges cost them their jobs.

Former Lakeland police chiefs Robbie Grantham and Kevin Trolinger’s suit against Lakeland Mayor William Darsey and the Lakeland City Council ended this week in a $250,000 settlement, which council members approved 4-1 during an executive session Wednesday evening.

In the lawsuit, filed in March 2011, Grantham and Trolinger allege the mayor pressured them to target his political opponents then fired them for objecting to his demands. The lawsuit also alleges four council members supported Darsey in his decision to dismiss the former chiefs.

Their dismissal has resulted in “tarnished” careers for Grantham and Trolinger that forced them to seek employment outside of law enforcement, said Trent Coggins, a Valdosta attorney representing the former police chiefs. While the settlement is not an admission of guilt for Darsey and the city, it does offer compensation for the grievances of the former chiefs.

“My clients feel vindicated that their allegations have been substantiated with this settlement,” Coggins said.

In spite of their victory, Grantham and Trolinger are unlikely to seek re-employment as officers in another area, Coggins said.

“They’ve had such a sour taste in their mouth over being fired for doing the right thing that I don’t know that they want to re-enter the field,” Coggins said. “They may.”

The Civil Action File for the suit alleges that Grantham faced mayoral demands to engage in “a course of abusive and unlawful conduct” in the latter part of 2009.

On more than one occasion, Grantham was ordered to target a Lakeland business owner for prosecution based on the belief that business owner “financially supported Darsey’s opponent” in the mayoral race.

“Darsey unlawfully demanded that Grantham ‘find something’ with which to criminally charge (the business owner), without regard to whether there was probable cause for any criminal charge,” the file states.

Throughout 2009 and 2010, Darsey demanded that Grantham and his officers issue a quota of $12,000 in traffic citations each month, the file states. Grantham believed the quota “was unlawful and abusive, as it encouraged officers to put the need to raise revenue” above probable cause, according to the file.

Grantham refused to acquiesce to these demands, and was terminated “in retaliation for his objections” on March 22, 2010, the file states. Four members of the City Council — Tony Giddens, Grace Mack, Shirley Roberts and Betty Mims, now deceased — supported Darsey’s request for Grantham’s termination, according to the file.

The City of Lakeland hired Trolinger, whom the file states  experienced similar pressure from the mayor, as Grantham’s successor that same day.

“Darsey insisted that Trolinger ‘target’ for criminal prosecution particular individuals in the community against whom Darsey held personal or political animus,” according to the lawsuit.

Trolinger was instructed to assign patrol cars to monitor the residence and business of a former member of the Lanier Board of Education in order to “find something” to prosecute, according to the file.

Trolinger said he was also instructed to follow the vehicle of a Lanier County administrator to target him for criminal prosecution without reasonable suspicion, the file states.

Trolinger was also pressured to meet a $12,000 traffic citation quota, according to the file.

On June 16, 2010, following the discovery of video surveillance showing six juveniles changing clothes to go swimming on a Lakeland resident’s property, Trolinger was ordered to place the juveniles under arrest and charge them with burglary without probable cause, the file states.

Like Grantham, Trolinger refused to comply with these demands, and he was demoted to his former position of captain.

Later, Trolinger refused to follow through on alleged demands for the forgiveness of traffic citations in exchange for political and financial favors, the file states, and Trolinger was terminated Aug. 11, 2010, with the same council members supporting Darsey.

The settlement is the largest negotiated settlement in a whistleblower case in the State of Georgia against a municipality, Coggins said. He feels the issue is “the worst case of abuse of political power” he has seen in his practice of law.

While Darsey and the members of the City Council involved in the suit could not be reached, Lakeland City Attorney George Wynn said his clients deny all allegations.

“In all settlements, everybody denies the allegations,” Wynn said.

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

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