A Boise police corporal has sued the city and Police Chief William Bones, saying he was “treated differently and harassed” for reporting a superior officer he believed was behaving unethically by selling weapons from the superior’s Police Department office.
Cpl. Norman “Denny” Carter said in two lawsuits that Lt. Greg Oster, who was his direct supervisor starting in summer 2015, retaliated against him after Carter told superiors in 2015, 2016 and 2017 that Oster was selling guns while on duty inside City Hall West. That’s the building at 333 N. Mark Stall Place where the department has its headquarters.
Oster retired in May 2018 after an internal investigation. He could not be reached for comment.
Mike Journee, Mayor David Bieter’s spokesman, said questions such as what came of the investigation, why Oster retired and whether he was on leave when he retired were personnel matters that neither he nor the department would comment on. Journee also declined to discuss the lawsuits themselves, saying the city does not comment on pending litigation.
In his lawsuits, Carter, who has been with the department since 1996, said officials told him they talked to Oster both after Carter first raised his concerns about the weapons sales and subsequently. But Oster continued to do business from his office, the lawsuits said.
Meanwhile, Oster started to exclude Carter, took away responsibilities, excluded him from meetings and academy instruction, and “started a campaign of harassment toward” him, Carter alleged.
Carter said he complained several more times orally and in emails before filing a written complaint in December 2017 under the state’s whistleblower law. The department launched an internal investigation a month later. Oster retired four months after that, having served more than 30 years with the department.
The city asked the judge hearing the first lawsuit to dismiss it, saying Carter failed to provide proper advance notice of his claims. District Judge Jonathan Medema in Boise last month dismissed Carter’s claims of infliction of emotional distress but allowed his whistleblower claims to proceed.
What Carter says happened
Carter sued in June 2018 and a second time in June 2019 to add complaints not included in the first suit. Bones was added Wednesday as a defendant in the second lawsuit. Here’s what the lawsuits say occurred:
Oster “established a ‘storefront’” of products from his business, SPaR Tactical, at his office. The storefront included pricing and professional displays. Oster also displayed stickers “advertising products that he sold” on his department vehicle and showed himself in his BPD uniform on the website for SPaR Tactical.
He did this with the knowledge of “BPD command staff, including but not limited to Chief William Bones, Deputy Chief Eugene Smith and Deputy Chief Scott Mulcahy.”
SPaR stands for “simple, practical and realistic training,” according to Oster’s LinkedIn page.
Oster supervised the department’s Uniform Safety Committee, which recommends equipment for the department to buy and optional equipment officers could buy. Carter was also on the committee. Oster “used his influence and discretion of his official position to recommend BPD issued equipment often using vendors for which he had a private, for-profit relationship,” including equipment he sold.
Carter complained orally in December 2015, spring 2016 and May 2017 about Oster’s conduct, and by email in January 2016 about being treated differently.
After he first complained to Smith in 2015, Smith told him a week later that he had talked to Oster and that the problem “will be taken care of.” Carter later saw Smith with a .22-caliber rifle he had purchased from Oster, which led Carter to believe Smith “had no intention of resolving this issue, because he was doing business with Lt. Oster.”
When Carter complained orally that spring to Mulcahy about Oster’s continuing private business on duty, he told Mulcahy he would “be forced to go outside the organization” if Oster didn’t stop.
Carter had been taken off the training division. Mulcahy said BPD would put someone new over the division, replacing Oster. Carter was reinstated to the training division, but Oster created “a hostile work environment,” ultimately forcing Carter to resign his full-time position as a use-of-force instructor. That resignation “deprived him of significant overtime earning opportunities.”
He remained a part-time defensive-tactics and firearms instructor but moved to the patrol division.
When the city began an internal investigation in January 2018, a few weeks after Carter’s written whistleblower complaint, Carter became “the subject of numerous rumors, including that his allegations have no merit and that he has a personal vendetta agianst Lt. Oster.” Carter was removed from the training division.
Oster was put on leave that winter, and he was allowed to put an “on vacation” sign on his desk while the city conducted its review.
An amended version of the 2019 lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that Bones was aware of Carter’s complaints of Oster’s behavior and resulting retaliation. It also says Bones personally retaliated against Carter by not ordering the removal of “defamatory” comments made by Oster’s wife on a Police Department post on Facebook.
Carter has requested lost wages and benefits, damages and attorneys fees as a result of violation of the Idaho Protection of Public Employees Act, also known as the Whistleblower Protection Act. In the amended suit, he also alleges violations of his First Amendment rights.
The Boise City Council in July voted to approve spending up to $100,000 to a Boise law firm, Moore, Elia, Kraft & Hall, which the city retained to defend it in the case. The original amount was $50,000. Journee declined to say how much had been spent, emphasizing only that the city is authorized up to $100,000.
A trial for the first lawsuit was originally set for October but has since been vacated, said Howard Belodoff, a lawyer for Carter. The second lawsuit has been assigned to District Judge Deborah Bail. Belodoff said expects the two suits to be consolidated at some point.
Belodoff declined to comment on specifics of the case.