Ex-police corporal files suit over his demotion


A former Annapolis police corporal who lost his stripes in the spring when a judge ruled that he had been illegally promoted filed suit yesterday in Anne Arundel Circuit Court seeking compensation and restoration of rank.

Officer James C. Spearman Jr. also wants back pay for his service as a corporal and a court order to prevent the city from promoting anyone to sergeant until his rank is restored. As a corporal, he says, he would be in line to be promoted to sergeant.

The suit against the city seeks no specific dollar amount in compensation but alleges the officer was "wrongfully demoted."

"The actions of the City of Annapolis in rescinding the Plaintiff's promotion to corporal constitute a breach of contract," the suit alleges.

Paul G. Goetzke, city attorney, said yesterday that Officer Spearman has been compensated for his time as a corporal and that he was demoted specifically because of a court order.

"The court was the one that took Officer Spearman's stripes away, not the city," he said.

Police Chief Joseph Johnson said the city issued Officer Spearman a check Tuesday for about $1,000 in back pay for the time he served as a corporal.

But Officer Spearman's lawyer, Alan H. Legum, said he is seeking back pay beyond the May 17 demotion date because his client believes he never should have been demoted.

"If the city had acted properly, the court wouldn't have issued the [demotion] ruling that it did," Mr. Legum said.

Officer Spearman was one of five black officers promoted to corporal Nov. 18, 1993, as part of an effort by then-Chief Harold Robbins to advance minorities in the department.

Officer Spearman was rated "well above standard" in his performance review two months later, worked as a supervisor and scored well on the written portion of the sergeant's exam, according to the suit.

But another group of officers filed suit in Circuit Court a few weeks after the promotions, claiming they were illegal because they had never been approved by the Annapolis City Council and were not part of a city-authorized affirmative action plan.

Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. agreed, ruling on May 17 that Mr. Robbins overstepped his authority in promoting the officers without City Council approval. The judge also ruled that the promotions were not a part of any city-approved affirmative action plan because the city had not updated its plan since 1979.

The suit notes that the council eventually did authorize the five corporal positions -- but not until May 23, a month after Chief Robbins had resigned.

Chief Johnson said the five corporal positions will remain vacant until a corporal's test is administered on Aug. 4 and a promotion list is compiled.

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