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Twinsburg police officers file suit against chief, city alleging sexual harassment, record tampering

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Three Twinsburg police officers have filed a lawsuit against the city and the police chief.

Three Twinsburg police officers are suing the city and its police chief over allegations of sexual harassment, record tampering and more.

"The issues that we're most focused on in this case date back probably about at least five years, especially related to the problems of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination," Brian Bardwell, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, said.

The lawsuit alleges Chief Thomas Mason has allowed sexual discrimination and harassment to "run rampant" in the department. He's also accused of falsifying police records to keep his family members' names out of police reports, as well as not filling records requests related to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs, Officers Daniel Fidoe, Olivia Bartulovic and Matthew Pfeifer, had been aware of misconduct and harassment for years and had been working to fix the problems internally, including under former Police Chief Chris Noga, the lawsuit states.

When Fidoe learned of sexual harassment and discrimination in the department, he brought his concerns to Noga, whose investigation was "designed to discredit" Fidoe and protect the offending officers, the lawsuit states.

The same problems arose under Mason's leadership, the suit states, and Fidoe began to help women in the department facing discrimination and harassment, including Bartulovic.

Pfeifer was also involved in efforts to clean up the department, according to the lawsuit. His attempts to investigate allegations of an out of policy pursuit and unconstitutional force were stonewalled by the department when he requested video footage of the incident, which the department refused to produce, claiming it didn't exist. Pfeifer found it in the system and learned that high ranking officers had been altering police reports.

The suit alleges Mason directed officers to keep his family members' names out of police reports, including removing his son's name from a report that detailed him drinking at a Halloween party, removing his daughter's name from records of a K-9 operation targeting students bringing drugs to school and intervening when his wife was caught speeding.

Mason has also launched a retaliation campaign against his clients for looking into issues of misconduct, Bardwell said. This included following the plaintiffs to find any punishable offense.

"They were sort of threatened with losing their jobs starting last year," he said. "They were hauled in for investigatory interviews starting this year."

The officers have been placed on administrative leave with no explanation, he said.

"There's no reason," he said. "They just say there's investigation related to their conduct as police officers."

Bardwell believes the city is planning to fire the officers, he said.

The suit also alleges Mason, the police department and the city have failed to respond to numerous records requests from the plaintiffs and their counsel.

"Regretfully, under the auspices of this public records lawsuit, the three current police officers allege many unsubstantiated and inflammatory concerns about the Twinsburg Police Leadership that are both untrue and have nothing to do with the underlying public records complaint," Twinsburg Mayor Sam Scaffide said in a statement. "I view this recent filing as nothing more than an ill-advised distraction technique that is costing the taxpayer’s money in an attempt to deflect away from the fact that all three officers currently face potential serious consequences for actions allegedly taken while wearing the honorable uniform of the Twinsburg Police."

The plaintiffs and their counsel have made approximately 140 public records requests, he added. "The city is committed to fulfilling all valid public records requests and will do the same here."

The lawsuit is asking the city and Mason to make all requested records available, as well as award damages, attorneys' fees, costs and any other relief to the plaintiffs.

Scaffide supports Mason and Twinsburg Police leadership, he said, and will "vigorously defend" against the lawsuit, which he called a "smear campaign."

Bardwell hopes the lawsuit spurs city council to take action, he said.

"We're also hoping that as this unfolds city council is paying close attention," he said, "because they've got a police chief who's starting to create some very serious problems."

The police department and city council have not responded to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

Updated: April 16, 2024 at 3:44 PM EDT
This story has been updated to add comments from the mayor of Twinsburg.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.