A former Austell police officer has filed a federal lawsuit against the city alleging he was fired in retaliation for alerting his supervisors to the actions of other officers that he felt posed a safety issue.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleges former Austell police officer Tim Rioux, of Hiram, received disciplinary action, was demoted and eventually fired for reporting the actions of two other officers and for criticizing the department for requiring some officers to work up to 16 to 18 hours per shift.
Austell Police Chief R.G. Starrett did not respond to emails or messages left with his office to comment for this story.
Rioux has a long career in public safety. Prior to his time in the Austell Police Department, Rioux said, he served for eight years in the U.S. Navy, four years with the Marine Corps, eight years as a military police officer at Clay National Guard Center in Marietta, about three years with Cobb police and about five years with the Cobb Fire Department.
He joined the Austell police department in 2013. In November 2014, Rioux wrote a letter to the department with “issues that I experienced at the department with other officers with safety issues, ethical issues,” he said. In the letter, he alerted command staff about an officer who bragged about having sex while on duty, falsified an incident affidavit and pointed his weapon at a suspect without a clear threat, the suit alleges.
The officer mentioned in the letter resigned after Rioux turned in his letter, Rioux claims in the suit, and the officer was told that Rioux reported his actions, which the suit states is a violation of Georgia’s whistleblower laws.
Rioux wrote another letter in June 2015 to command staff regarding officers working long shifts overnight then being forced to attend events the next morning, resulting in these officers being at work for as long as 16 to 18 hours.
Around the same time, Rioux told a police sergeant about the city’s 911 dispatchers allegedly watching movies and playing video games while on duty, the suit alleges.
A few months later, in September 2015, Rioux reported another officer in the department for failing to secure a scene and a suspect, for not knowing how to conduct felony traffic stops, for failing to assist other officers and other actions he felt were unsafe, the suit states.
Again, the officer was told that Rioux had reported their actions, the suit claims.
A short time later, Rioux was ordered to attend diversity training then moved from patrol duties to working in the jail, which the suit claims were in retaliation for his actions. One of the officers Rioux had reported then accused him of malfeasance, the suit claims.
Through his attorney, Rioux submitted a letter objecting to being moved to the jail, which he considered a demotion, in retaliation for his actions and informed the department he would file suit unless the situation was rectified, the suit claims. Just days later, he was suspended for three days and ordered to attend anger management counseling, the suit states.
After serving his suspension and attending the anger management counseling, Rioux returned to work, where he was accused of recording audio inside the 911 call center, according to the suit. When he denied doing so, refused to participate in an investigation into the issue and said he wanted to discuss the matter with his attorney, he was sent home, the suit alleges.
The next day, he was fired over the phone by Chief Starrett, according to the lawsuit.
Rioux’s attorney, Kirby Smith, claims in the suit that Rioux was denied his Fifth Amendment rights and was prosecuted for being a whistleblower. The suit seeks a jury trial to decide damages Rioux might be entitled to as well as attorney’s fees.