With one lawsuit pending in state court, a fired Springfield police officer has sued the city in federal court, claiming that he was terminated because he is black.
Loren D. Pettit, who was earning more than $72,000 a year when he was terminated in June 2014, was the first officer in the history of the department fired for using drugs. He was fired after testing positive for nandrolone, an anabolic steroid named as a banned substance in the city’s collective bargaining agreement with police officers, and clenbuterol, an asthma medication banned as a performance enhancer in the Olympics and in several professional sports.
An internal affairs investigator also found human chorionic gonadotropin, commonly called HCG, during a search of Pettit’s patrol car. HCG is a diet aid that boosts testosterone levels lowered by steroid use and was the basis for a 50-game suspension meted out to former Los Angeles Dodger Manny Ramirez in 2009. Pettit says that he used HCG under medical supervision.
After his firing, Pettit was ordered reinstated by an arbitrator more than a year ago, but the city in a pending state court lawsuit has asked that the arbitrator’s order be reversed. In his federal lawsuit filed March 16, Pettit says that officers who are not black have been charged with “same similar conduct” but were not fired. Pettit, who was assigned to Southeast High School when he was put on leave, then fired, says in court papers that he performed his duties in a “competent and satisfactory manner” and that he has suffered both lost wages and emotional distress. He also says that his home was wrongly searched.
Pettit fell under suspicion in November of 2013, when his girlfriend complained that he had beaten her. The department’s internal affairs division began an investigation into substance abuse after she suggested that Pettit might have turned violent due to steroid use.
The city sued Pettit and the police union in Sangamon County Circuit Court in April of last year in an effort to reverse the decision of an arbitrator so that firing will stick. During arbitration proceedings, Pettit testified that HCG use was common within the Springfield Police Department to the point that Chief Kenny Winslow and his secretary used the substance. Winslow denied using HCG in an interview with Illinois Times last year (“Cops on drugs? No problem,” May 7, 2015), but Pettit’s claim went unchallenged during arbitration proceedings, which Pettit’s lawyer noted in a brief submitted to the arbitrator.
“The city did not rebut Officer Pettit’s testimony that even Chief Winslow and his secretary also tried HCG,” attorney Ronald Stone wrote. “Thus it would seem apparent that no discipline to Officer Pettit can be based upon any reference to HCG use or possession.”
The city did not seek termination based on use of HCG or clenbuterol, neither of which appear on the list of banned substances in the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the police union. Clenbuterol is not approved for use by humans in the United States; HCG requires a prescription. The city also did not seek termination based on allegations of domestic violence, which the department concluded were true. However, Winslow decided that a positive test for nandrolone, which is listed as a banned substance in the department’s contract with the union, was sufficient grounds for termination.
Pettit testified that he didn’t know that he was taking anything illegal. Rather, he said that a trainer, now deceased, at a local gym gave him pills and a liquid that he injected, and that he trusted the trainer not to give him anything illegal. Pettit, who weighed more than 300 pounds during arbitration proceedings, said that he took the substances in an effort to lose weight. He also testified that the gym where he was given the substances was popular with city police officers and Sangamon County sheriff’s deputies.
Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner vouched for Pettit’s character during arbitration proceedings, as did Teresa Haley, president of the Illinois chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Edgar Knox, a Sangamon County sheriff’s deputy.
In overturning the decision to terminate Pettit, arbitrator Doyle O’Connor early last year wrote that Pettit had enjoyed “a sterling reputation” as evidenced by “a truly impressive array of individuals” who testified on his behalf. Pettit knew what sort of substances he was taking, O’Connor found, but found that his use of steroids was “more in the category of foolhardy than criminal.” Instead of being fired, Pettit should serve a 15-day suspension, he decided.
“It (steroid use) is more akin to driving after ingesting too many ‘legal’ beers than it is to the use of street drugs,” O’Connor write in his decision.
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.