Three Sandy Springs police officers who were demoted after taking complaints about their chief directly to the mayor allege that they are being retaliated against for their actions.
The officers claimed that their efforts to make the city aware of harassment issues in the police department fell on deaf ears in the chain of command, and their only recourse was to go to Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul. But by sidestepping the chain of command, they put themselves at risk, they claim.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said he was just following city policy when he redirected the complaints to the city manager, John McDonough.
McDonough decided to demote the officers by one rank and to place them on probation for 12 months for participating “in any action that disrupts or disturbs the operation of the City” and for attempting to use political influence to secure disciplinary action. By going outside the chain of command with their issues, the officers failed to follow instructions and violated the employee handbook, McDonough said in a disciplinary letter.
“They have to go through a very detailed process,” Paul said. “It’s not that I don’t want to get involved. Our procedures do not allow me to get involved.”
Former Capt. Glenn Kalish and former Sgts. Ron Momon and Lawrence Joe said in a letter to Paul that they had gone to human resources last fall to complain about “ongoing harassment, intimidation and humiliation” of police department employees. Officers who have complained in the past have been brushed off, the letter said.
The officers, in their letter, said that McDonough’s friendship with Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone affected McDonough’s ability to adequately police DeSimone’s actions.
Since being demoted, Momon and Joe have left the department. Kalish is appealing his demotion.
In their letter, the officers claimed DeSimone referred to a nutritional and physical fitness program as a “Chub Club” and humiliated employees who were participating. They also alleged that DeSimone addressed officers with deragatory language, belittled employees who used a city program to borrow against their retirement accounts and manipulated the hiring process to bring on friends.
As a result of the actions they alleged, the letter said, employees lost faith in the department and morale was low.
In emailed comments sent through a Sandy Springs spokeswoman, DeSimone denied the allegations and said his goal “is to foster a department that aspires to high standards.”
McDonough said through the spokeswoman the officers were not eligible for whistle blower protections because they had gathered complaints from other officers and did not have first-hand knowledge of the allegations, “which were determined to be based on rumor, gossip, half truths, erroneous information and speculation.”
Momon said other officers had entrusted him with their own complaints. He and Joe expected the letter would lead to a thorough investigation of the department’s leadership.
“I didn’t think they’d be investigating us in a complaint against them,” Joe said. “I was extremely surprised we were treated the way we were.”
Momon said he felt “betrayed” by the experience.
“We thought we had done the right thing by bringing attention to the things that were going on in the department,” he said. “We felt retaliated against.”
Channel 2 Action News reporter Mike Petchenik contributed to this story.