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Whistle-blower officer files lawsuit against Batts, BPD

A former Baltimore Police officer sues agency, says he faced hostile workplace after blowing whistle on miscon

A former Baltimore police officer who blew the whistle on misconduct is suing the agency and its commissioner, alleging that they failed to protect him from retaliation.

Detective Joseph Crystal, who resigned in August, came forward in 2012 and told prosecutors he had observed fellow officers assaulting a man. Crystal said word spread within the department that he was cooperating, and one morning he found a rat on the windshield of his car outside his home.

When the incident became public, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts vowed to protect Crystal and investigate. But Crystal, who now lives in Florida, contends in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit that a continued hostile workplace environment forced him to leave.

His lawsuit alleges that the retaliation violated his free-speech rights, that the department broke state wage and hour laws, and that he was forced to resign.

The Police Department said an outside investigation of the intimidation that Crystal alleged is not complete and declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Crystal also alleges that other officers refused to back him up on the streets. He alleges that in November 2012, no one from his unit responded to a call he put out over the radio that he was involved in a foot chase as part of a drug investigation.

Two days later, he stopped two suspects and called for backup. He contends his supervisor called his cellphone and "gave him a direct order to return back to the district and that he would not be given backup."

"Nobody wants to ride with you," a detective told him later, according to the lawsuit.

Crystal also alleges that a detective once pulled up alongside his police car and asked if he was "having a cheese party. I know rats like cheese." And he says a union official told him he should "look into going to another agency."

The former president of the Fraternal Order of Police declined to comment.

Crystal contends the incidents were fallout from him coming forward about a beating he said he observed during an October 2011 drug arrest.

Officers saw a man throw away suspected drugs and tried to chase him, then later found him hiding in the home of a police officer's girlfriend. Prosecutors said that after the suspect was handcuffed and put in a wagon to be taken away, police took him back into the house, where Officer Anthony Williams, who was off duty, beat him.

Williams was convicted of assault and obstruction of justice, and Sgt. Marinos Gialamas was found guilty of misconduct.

According to the lawsuit, Crystal met with Batts, his chief of staff and the head of internal affairs in February 2014, 15 months after the rat incident. Batts said they would "get to the bottom of what happened to him" and allowed him to do an interview with a television news reporter.

Batts has said that officers from the Philadelphia and Montgomery County police departments were brought in to conduct the review.

"We're going to go wherever that information takes us," Batts said in June.

Crystal contends that he was told by a supervisor, who is not named in the lawsuit, that the investigation was not genuine. "If they wanted to do [an investigation], they would have done so two years ago," he said he was told.

In the months that followed, Crystal alleges, his security clearance was pulled and he had to stop working an assignment with the FBI. At one point, he was put on a midnight-shift burglary detail, and later told to clean out his office "without any instruction of where he is to go," according to the lawsuit.

"Despite the ... Baltimore City Police Department promising a full investigation into plaintiff's allegations, and Commissioner Batts promising he would get to the bottom of what happened, nothing has come of the investigation into what the department did and allowed to continue to happen to plaintiff for whistleblowing police misconduct," the lawsuit states.

At the time of his resignation, Crystal was under investigation for an off-duty car accident in Baltimore County involving a take-home department vehicle. Crystal's attorney, Nick Panteleakis, told The Baltimore Sun in August that internal affairs was investigating whether he was using the vehicle improperly because his wife was in the car at the time.

The lawsuit contends that word that Crystal was going to be fired over that incident was leaked to the news media to "smear and tarnish" him. His attorneys contend that Crystal left on his own because his career as a detective had been destroyed.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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