The trial began Monday in the highly charged case of a fired Anchorage Police Department lieutenant who says he was wrongfully terminated and retaliated against for his role in reporting discrimination against a fellow officer in the department.
The city says the former officer, Anthony Henry, was fired for insubordination and his role in the premature release of information related to the Alaska National Guard scandal.
Close to 50 witnesses are due to testify during the trial, which is set to last more than two weeks. If Henry prevails, the city could be on the hook for more than $1.5 million in damages.
Some key issues include the fairness and reliability of an investigative report written by a retired Pennsylvania state police colonel, and whether Anchorage Police officers manufactured complaints and set up Henry — or whether Henry is the one who was lying in interviews with an investigator.
The litigation has reached epic proportions since Henry first sued in May 2015, a month after he was fired. More than 900 pleadings and court orders have been filed in the case to date.
It is a case that hints at internal friction at the police department and the contours of the drug and sexual assault controversies in the Alaska National Guard that erupted into public view in 2014.
In opening statements Monday afternoon, Henry's attorneys described a distinguished police officer who spoke out against unethical behavior and was subsequently targeted by commanders and City Hall officials who did not like being questioned.
Meg Simonian, an attorney with Dillon & Findley, said Henry had to make choices in 2012: He could avoid career trouble, or speak up and defend a fellow officer who he believed the department wrongfully discriminated against as a result of a medical diagnosis, Simonian said.
When Henry reported the discrimination, a multi-year campaign of retaliation began, Simonian said. She said Henry's superiors and fellow officers manufactured complaints against him, reprimanded him and forced him to work out of a small closet for several months. She contended the treatment culminated in a "sham" report by a retired Pennsylvania state police lieutenant colonel that was followed by Henry's firing in April 2015.
Henry is now working seven days a week at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq away from his family, Simonian said. She said that over the course of the trial, defense attorneys would show that police and city attorneys "castigated, humiliated and publicly destroyed him."
The city's opening legal defense, by contrast, was more narrowly focused on allegations of Henry's role in the Alaska National Guard controversy. In his opening statement, city attorney Douglas Parker particularly dwelled on whether Henry had prematurely revealed to Alaska National Guard commanders a police investigation into illegal drug activity by National Guard recruits, and also divulged the identity of an informant about alleged sexual assaults by recruiters.
Assertions of such misconduct, Parker said, were contained in the 98-page report (plus hundreds of pages of supplements) written by the retired Pennsylvania officer, Rick Brown. The report, a huge stack of papers, sat on a table behind Parker in the courtroom as he talked. Parker also played some audio excerpts from Henry's interview with Brown, and also from a recent deposition of Henry, which Parker said contained a number of inconsistencies.
Brown concluded that Henry had not only interfered with the investigation, but lied about it during interviews, Parker said.
"That is something police officers can't do," Parker said.
Parker also described Henry as inappropriately hostile and insubordinate toward superiors in 2012, which he said spurred the city's disciplinary action.
Henry's legal team is arguing the Brown report was not an independent report, and Brown had effectively been hired to get rid of Henry. They also say the report was not read in its entirety by City Hall executives who decided Henry should be fired.
The Brown report has been confidential. But a redacted version is due to be released soon, after the Anchorage Daily News and KTUU successfully pressed in court for its release. As well as the grounds for Henry's firing, the report served as the basis for the secret suspension of then-Police Chief Mark Mew for two weeks in 2015.