Whistle-blowing former Baltimore police detective sues department for retaliation

The end of former Baltimore Police Department (BPD) detective Joseph Crystal's career was well-documented in the media this year, as two of his colleagues were convicted of misconduct arising from beating up a drug suspect. Crystal was a key witness in the case against the officers, Anthony Williams and Marinos Gialamas, and while the case was being investigated, a dead rat was found on Crystal's car windshield in November 2012. Publicity about the dead-rat incident prompted BPD Commissioner Anthony Batts in June to appoint outside investigators to look into the matter, but Crystal resigned after finding himself the target of an internal investigation involving a take-home police vehicle.

Yesterday, with Crystal's filing of a free-speech retaliation lawsuit in Maryland U.S. District Court against BPD, his detailed account of what happened to him is now a matter of public record. The 21-page complaint portrays BPD as an agency imbued with the same stop-snitching culture that prevails on the streets it is sworn to patrol.

"Crystal has experienced taunting, intimidation, personal threats, and harassment that have endured since blowing the whistle on the police misconduct" in 2011, the lawsuit states, and suffered "an intolerable and hostile work environment" as "his position, assignments, and career were directly affected" in the aftermath of his whistle-blowing, including being "unjustifiably investigated" by internal affairs. Due to this treatment, the lawsuit continues, Crystal "resigned and is no longer with the Department," while Williams, Gialamas, and "the supervisors and fellow employees who retaliated against him remain with the Department."

Initially, Crystal's BPD career appeared exceptionally promising, the lawsuit explains. He was "class commander" at the police academy, and at graduation in 2009, he received the "Police Comissioner's Award" for "being the trainee that demonstrated the most leadership." By the end of 2010 he'd been promoted from officer to detective, and was assigned to the Violent Crime Impact Section.

Then, in late 2011, Crystal's career quickly started to tank after he and his colleagues chased a drug suspect, Antoine Green, who kicked in the door of an East Baltimore house to take refuge. The home happened to be the abode of BPD officer Williams' girlfriend, and Green was arrested. While Green was en route to Central Booking, however, Gialamas called for him to be returned to the house, where Gialamas and an off-duty Williams assaulted him—the initial conduct for which both were later convicted.

At first, though, what Gialamas and Williams did went unreported, "despite multiple officers . . . being present and/or aware of this incident," the lawsuit states, while "attempts were made to 'cover up' the assault." So Crystal reported it to the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, resulting in charges filed in October 2012 against Williams and Gialamas.

On Oct. 19, 2012, the day after Williams and Gialamas were charged, the lawsuit recounts that Lt. Tracey Geho in a police meeting said, "I told you Gialamas was fucked" and "I want to know who the source is." Geho "then got very close" to Crystal's face and, "while pointing his finger" in Crystal's face, said: "What the fuck are you going to say?!" adding that "you are going to get charged with perjury when you testify" and "your story better not change even a little bit."

A week later, Sgt. Robert Amador called Crystal on the phone, the lawsuit claims. "You better pray to God you are not the star witness," Amador is quoted as saying, "because your career is already fucked, but if you're the star witness you may as well just resign." Amador allegedly added that Crystal "did not have to lie," but he "did not have to bury the motherfucker. You better pray you are not the star witness against 'G.'" Amador also, in person, told Crystal that "people don't like you and you need to watch your back," the lawsuit states, which Crystal took as "a direct threat of physical harm" and "feared for his safety."

After Amador's call—as well as a subsequent incident, in which Amador allegedly ordered him to "falsify" a "confidential informant slip" in order to "set him up with altering the police voucher," the lawsuit states—Crystal "knew that the culture of the Defendant Baltimore City Police Department would condone this type of behavior." He was "thereafter labeled a 'rat' and was constantly referred to as such by police officers both behind his back and to his face."

Crystal's efforts to seek help over the situation from the police union and internal affairs were fruitless, the lawsuit continues, and then the dead-rat incident occurred on Nov. 23, 2012. From that point on, Crystal's "safety was at stake," because "he would call for backup in certain situations" while working the streets "and no backup would come."

The alleged retaliation against Crystal started to affect his assignments in 2014, when the media started to report on the case against Williams and Gialamas, including the loss of his security clearance, his being pulled from working with the FBI, and his being assigned to burglary and rape details, with confusing or contradictory instructions from supervisors about where and when he was to report for duty.

"With pervasive retaliation against him condoned and fostered by Defendants," the lawsuit states, "and with his career as a Detective destroyed by the Defendants," Crystal "resigned on Sept. 3, 2014." During this time, "efforts were made by the Defendants to smear and tarnish" Crystal's reputation, the lawsuit states, "including with news reporter Justin Fenton" of the Baltimore Sun, "who was contacted and advised" by BPD members that Crystal "was quitting because he was about to be fired. This was not true."

What's more, the lawsuit alleges that "nothing has come of the investigation" that Batts ordered into what happened to Crystal "for whistleblowing police misconduct."

Crystal's lawsuit asks for $500,000 in compensation for his allegations of freedom-of-speech retaliation, and another $1 million in punitive damages. He also alleges he is owed approximately $10,000 in unused sick and vacation time, and that he "requested his last paycheck," but BPD "has refused to pay," so Crystal seeks an additional $30,000 in compensation and another $5 million in punitive damages. Finally, claiming that he "did not resign in order to avoid being fired," but that he was "forced to resign" because "he was reasonably fearful of his safety as a result of the Defendants' actions," Crystal seeks another $500,000 in damages for "constructive discharge," plus another $5 million in punitive damages.

Court records in the lawsuit indicate that Crystal now lives in Florida. His attorneys are A. Donald C. Discepolo and Alan B. Neurick of the Baltimore firm Discepolo LLP.

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