Featured StoryEx-Prineville PD chief retaliated against whistleblower, $1.5M lawsuit claims

Ex-Prineville PD chief retaliated against whistleblower, $1.5M lawsuit claims

Ex-Prineville PD chief retaliated against whistleblower, .5M lawsuit claims

Larry Seymour Prineville PD Police Chief

A former employee of the Prineville Police Department is suing the city and former Police Chief Larry Seymour for $1.5 million. She claims she was wrongfully retaliated against after blowing the whistle on Seymour and a police captain over their treatment of an injured officer.

Seymour and Capt. Robert Gray resigned last month after being placed on administrative leave for six months during an investigation. The city has never stated the exact nature of the probe.

According to the lawsuit, plaintiff Nikki Hepworth was the Administrative Services Manager and a former employee of the year.

The lawsuit claims that officer Lindsey Ward was injured on the job. The law firm representing Hepworth — Johnson, Johnson, Lucas & Middleton — said Ward’s injury came from a use of force incident.

RELATED: Prineville police chief, captain placed on administrative leave

RELATED: Prineville police chief, captain resign after 6-month leave, investigation

Ward was told by her doctor to go on light duty. Hepworth claims that Seymour and Gray could be heard “commenting disparagingly that they would make Officer Ward’s light duty as hard as possible and punish her for taking it.”  The attorneys say that it’s against Oregon law to discriminate against someone for using the workers compensation system.

According to Hepworth, Seymour had Ward washing walls, windows and detailing police vehicles. 

At one point, when city Human Resources Manager Darla Rhoden saw Ward washing walls, she asked Hepworth why that was happening. Hepworth told Rhoden about Seymour and Gray’s alleged comments and about punishing Ward, the lawsuit states.

Hepworth claims Seymour got angry that she had disclosed to Rhoden what was happening after Rhoden had observed it. 

Seymour later allegedly told Hepworth her job duties would now include watching Ward to make sure the was doing what she was told. Just before that conversation, Rhoden said Ward was not allowed to do physical labor like the tasks she had been assigned, according to the lawsuit.

Hepworth allegedly went to City Manager Steve Forrester to report Seymour’s “bullying, harassment, and abuse of authority.” Forrester eventually disclosed the conversation to Seymour after Hepworth asked him not to, according to the lawsuit.

Hepworth claimed that Seymour and Forrester had both tried to get her to resign at various points, but she refused.  When asked by Forrester if an investigation warranted, Hepworth agreed. She was then placed her on administrative leave during that investigation, the lawsuit claims.

After a third-party investigation ended in July 2023, Seymour and Gray were placed on administrative leave. Lt. Shane Wilson was made interim chief. 

That investigation uncovered “untruthfulness” by Seymour and Gray, according to the lawsuit and that a second investigation to “verify the wrongdoing” was launched. 

The second investigation ended in November, but Seymour and Gray remained on leave. Both of them negotiated resignations in January, the lawsuit states. Seymour’s photo remains on the police department website.

Hepworth was told to return to work by Feb. 5, but she declined. The lawsuit claims Forrester knew that interim Chief Wilson would make life “intolerable” for Hepworth because Wilson was loyal to Seymour.

The city provided this statement in response to the lawsuit:

“The city is aware of the allegations raised in the lawsuit and will be addressing them in accordance with the legal process. The city does not comment on pending litigation.

The City of Prineville would like to thank the community for its patience over the previous months as we conducted thorough investigations regarding the Prineville Police Department concerning internal operations. While the city cannot currently disclose specific details about these investigations, we are focused on creating and maintaining a professional workplace conducive to the well-being of all employees while prioritizing the safety and well-being of the community.

In early January, the city retained Jim Band, a respected leader in law enforcement with an impressive 25-year career, including ten years as a police chief in Oregon. Mr. Band is actively involved in reviewing the Police Department’s policies and protocols, providing suggestions for improvement, and contributing to assessing areas where positive changes can be made. Additionally, he will play an active role in the search for a new police chief to lead the department.”

Prineville Police whistleblower complaint

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