A St. Louis jury just awarded a former police chemist $175,000 to settle a whistleblower lawsuit brought in 2011.
The former police chemist alleged that she was terminated after she complained about drug testing errors at the city’s crime lab, according to The Daily Journal. The jury deliberated about five hours before reaching its verdict in the one-week trial.
The ex-crime lab worker brought her lawsuit in May 2011 after having been fired in 2010, which ended her 25-year career with the St. Louis Police Department. She alleged that expressing her worries about about a co-worker’s mistakes three years prior caused her dismissal, The Daily Journal reported. For their part, state prosecutors said that she lost her job because she disobeyed orders when she worked on a homicide case despite being told that drug casework was her only priority.
The whistleblower told The St. Louis Post Dispatch, “I’m a scientist…. If the reports are in error, they should be corrected, because people’s lives are affected by it.” The award was made based on a retaliation claim filed against Lt. Angela Coonce, commander of the intelligence division.
The whistleblower had complained on a number of occasions, both within and outside of the lab, concerning two 2008 criminal cases in which a fellow chemist failed to detect benzylpiperazine (BZP), which is a component of the drug known as “Ecstasy,” The St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote.
According to the whistleblower’s attorneys, the department retaliated against her because she aired its “dirty laundry.” Attorneys for the police argued that the whistleblower was terminated in October 2010 for entirely different reasons and said that she had gone against orders by working, in May 2010, on a fatal arson case after being told that drug cases were her priority, reported The St. Louis Post Dispatch.
The department, which at that time had a 24-hour turnaround time on drug tests, argued that the whistleblower went outside of her chain of command to complain and then lied about what occurred. One of the whistleblower’s attorneys said this was just a ploy to fire his client.
Ultimately, officials agreed that the whistleblower’s analysis of the drug was correct. Officials testified that the whistleblower was reported to internal affairs for claiming a colleague intentionally altered the test’s results. A review found that the colleague had followed the protocols that were in place at the time, according to The St. Louis Post Dispatch. The department has also since adopted the whistleblower’s method of detecting BZP.
The whistleblower alleges that she never received a reason for her termination.