2 Investigates: Former SFPD officer alleges retaliation for whistleblowing, files suit
SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - A former San Francisco police officer has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against The City of San Francisco and the police chief alleging that she suffered retaliation for turning in a dirty cop.
Pat Burley, an officer with the San Francisco Police department for 22 years, claimed she was forced to retire after raising concerns about an officer embezzling money.
Burley was a board member of the department’s Pride Alliance for LGBT officers and had suspicions that that a fellow officer, Mike Evans, was embezzling money.
Evans was suspected of stealing thousands of dollars while serving as the organization’s treasurer.
Burley and others brought the issue of the missing money to the attention of the group’s president, Lt. Chuck Limbert, but say he ordered them not to the report the crime.
She then raised her concerns to the department’s Internal Affairs division.
Evans paid back the money and resigned from the police force, but Burley and others thought he should face charges and that’s where the case stalled.
“We take an oath as police officers to uphold justice and that wasn’t being done,” Burley said. “It just wasn’t right.”
Frustrated with the way the investigation was being handled; Burley decided to detail the allegations with KTVU and asked us to conceal her identity.
It turned out to be a costly decision.
“I came and spoke to you and then all of a sudden, I’m in trouble for misconduct,” she said.
Instead of being rewarded for exposing a bad cop, Burley became the target of an internal affairs investigation and was questioned about talking to the press.
“They showed me the video, inquired if it was me. I said it was not me because I feared I would lose my job. I would be terminated. I would lose my pension. I could lose my benefits,” said Burley.
She knew lying could lead to discipline, but she didn’t think it would end her career.
In February, a year after KTVU aired the story on the embezzlement scandal and four months after Evans was eventually booked on felony embezzlement and felony grand theft, Burley was informed the department was pursuing the misconduct case against her.
Pat Burley's complaint
She was told the matter would be referred to The San Francisco Police Commission for disciplinary action, including possible termination.
But that San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr would agree to dismiss the discipline, if Burley agreed to retire early.
“I’m being forced to retire because I went to the press about a personnel matter, an officer committing a crime and the chief did not like that,” Burley said.
Chief Suhr said he could not comment on Burley’s case citing pending litigation but he insists there’s no tolerance for retaliation against officers who try to report problems within the department.
He said in a statement “We encourage our officers to report any alleged misconduct by department members.
Officers who become aware of any alleged criminal conduct have a duty to report such misbehavior without pause.”
“There’s no question she’s a whistleblower,” said Oakland attorney Jayme Walker who’s representing Burley in her lawsuit.
“She was retaliated against for coming forward with information that another officer had committed a crime. This is information that another police officer wanted covered up, didn’t want reported, and Pat Burley said not on my watch,” Walker said.
Walker told KTVU that officers have first amendment protection against employer retaliation when speaking out about alleged department misconduct or corruption and this case is evidence the anti-snitching culture in the department remains destructive.
“The fact that the officer was forced to retire, that they could have lost their benefits, that an investigation was even initiated because they reported another officer to the press, that chills a whistleblower from coming forward,” said Walker.
Instead of taking her changes before the police commission, Burley took up the chief on his offer and retired on March 22nd. KTVU met with Burley the next day at her home in Santa Rosa.
The veteran law enforcement officer grew emotional as she talked about life after the police department and her decision to move forward with a whistleblower retaliation complaint.
“It’s amazing that the badge, what it represents and how much you feel like you’re somebody with it and then you take it off and I’m still somebody, but I’m not the same somebody,” she said.
Burley said she spoke out because she felt she had to.
It came at great personal cost - one she believes was worth it.
When Burley was asked if she would have come forward, knowing the outcome she replied “I would have spoken out, yes.”