TOPEKA, (KSNT)— Former Kansas Highway Patrol troopers are speaking out after being fired from the department.
Sean McCauley, an attorney representing a couple of troopers, who filed lawsuits claiming retaliation from the department, said that the cases are now moving forward in an interview Tuesday.
“I think the retaliation is a seeming pattern of the administration of the Highway Patrol right now, where if you speak out against the Colonel or the direction of the agency that you’re met with immediate retaliation, and that’s unfortunately becoming a common theme in prior cases…” McCauley said.
Several Kansas Highway Patrol women came forward with sexual assault allegations against Superintendent Colonel Herman Jones in the past year. In December 2020, federal lawsuits were filed by two former majors who supervised multiple female employees within the Kansas Highway Patrol who accused Col. Jones of sexual misconduct.
McCauley said he knows there are multiple lawsuits pending against the Highway Patrol, which other attorneys are handling, that are also “progressing forward.”
One of the former employees McCauley represents is Justin Dobler, who had a hearing on his case last week after being fired in July last year. According to McCauley, it resulted from a pursuit that he was engaged in last March.
During the chase, the driver of the car proceeded into oncoming traffic. After assessing the danger the driver posed, Dobler decided to use an authorized maneuver, known as a tactical vehicle intervention or TVI, to disable the vehicle. The car spun out and hit a telephone pole after striking a mailbox. The passenger of the car was seriously injured and died from the injuries.
After the Highway Patrol investigated the matter, Dobler was not charged with any wrongdoing. However, the driver of the car was charged with felony murder, and held responsible for the passenger’s death. Dobler went four months without hearing anything on the Patrol’s position on his termination, until July, when he was told that he was being terminated for his involvement in the pursuit.
“That was a surprise to him, because no one had told him that he had done anything wrong in the pursuit,” McCauley explained. “And, in fact, he had been told by his Captain and Lieutenant that he had complied with policy and was justified in using the tactical vehicle intervention.”
McCauley said, ultimately, they determined that Dobler did not drive with due regard to the safety of others. But, he said the initial findings in writing were that Dobler did nothing wrong. McCauley said their position “strangely” changed after the Captain had a meeting with five majors, where he was “trained” on what the policy violations were.
“That’s interesting, because the Captain is one of the most tenured members of the Highway Patrol,” McCauley said. “He’s been on for 34 years, and his claim is that he changed it because he wasn’t able to identify these policy violations when he reviewed the pursuit. I’ve been doing this for 22 years, and I’ve never seen a Captain be unable to identify policy violations when it’s an integral part of their job.”
Similar to the other two majors that were fired, Dobler called the actions of the department into question. During the hearing, the Captain was called to testify and acknowledged on cross examination that there was some conflict between Trooper Dobler and the members of the administration at General Headquarters (GHQ). McCauley said that the Captain testified that the source of that was Dobler’s support for the female employees who had filed sexual harassment complaints against the Colonel.
“Trooper Dobler had posted his support for them on Facebook, because he was friends with them and knew them, and according to the Captain, that generated some angst and division from the Highway Patrol towards Trooper Dobler,” McCauley said. “That was before his involvement in this pursuit, and ultimately, we believe that was one of the motivations in terminating his employment.”
Colonel Jones provided the following statement to Kansas Capitol Bureau in regard to the current lawsuits that are progressing and claims of retaliation from the department.
“In order to maintain public trust and uphold the safety of all Kansas citizens and employees of the Kansas Highway Patrol, it is vitally important that we as agency leaders hold all employees accountable, at all levels. We must ensure that our employees adhere to all federal and state laws, and to the rules and regulations of the Patrol, especially when taking enforcement action and in our interactions with the public.”
Colonel Herman Jones, Superintendent
However, in regard to the two majors, that were let go from the Kansas Highway Patrol a year prior to Dobler’s firing, both Gov. Kelly’s office and Col. Jones said the dismissals were part of building a culture and structure within the agency that will help troopers best serve the people of Kansas. Their firing came within the same timeframe the governor’s office cleared Col. Jones of multiple allegations including gender discrimination and misuse of the state aircraft.
“Those are personnel matters, and basically there was a need for change in administration, and that was the actions that we took,” Jones said in an interview with KSNT in July 2020. “I wish them very much the best in their endeavors from here on out.”
The latest action from the department comes after a Lieutenant with the Patrol testified during Dobler’s hearing. McCauley said after the Lieutenant testified favorably for Trooper Dobler during a Civil Service Board hearing, within less than 24 hours, he was placed on administrative leave pending a PSU, Professional Standards Unit, investigation.
McCauley said he’s now representing the Lieutenant.
“The common theme is that if you speak out against the administration, their immediate reaction is to retaliate against you,” McCauley said.