Centralia Sentinel Stories: Nashville Lawsuit

Suit alleges Nashville officer’s firing was retaliatory

NASHVILLE — A former Nashville police officer has alleged he was let go from his position because he attempted to expose corruption, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week in the U.S. District Court.

Gregory Hopfinger filed the suit Monday against the city of Nashville and Police Chief Brian Fletcher, stating he had brought concerns to former Mayor Raymond Kolweier as well as city council members Erik Rolf and Josh Fark. Rolf was later elected as mayor in April 2017.

The suit states that Hopfinger’s opposition to “Fletcher’s conduct was not part of a board meeting or otherwise part of the job duties he was expected to perform” and that Hopfinger had spoken “as a citizen about these matters of public concern.”

Hopfinger was a 16-year veteran of the Nashville Police Department before he was fired in August. The lawsuit states Hopfinger became a lieutenant in the department within a year after he was hired as a full-time police officer.

In February 2017, Hopfinger approached Kolweier, Rolf and Fark after a grievance meeting to arrange a time to discuss several issues within the police department. The suit said Hopfinger had asked to speak to the city officials privately before the matter was discussed.

During this meeting, Hopfinger accused Fletcher of a number of infractions, including falsifying state firearms qualifications records, failing to re-certify his firearm qualification annually, charging book purchases to the city of Nashville and misappropriating donated funds that had been given in memory of fallen officers.

Hopfinger also allegedly told the city officials that Fletcher had allowed the department’s asset forfeiture program to become non-compliant and also denied to pay an officer who was called in on a day off to work. He also said the chief had worked less than a 40-hour work week “when it appeared he was not taking leave for his time off.”

Hopfinger also reportedly told them of an incident where a police officer had gotten drunk and passed out in a McDonald’s drive-thru. A responding officer then allowed the first officer to drive home and did not record the incident, the lawsuit alleges. Hopfinger alleges Fletcher also did not report or record an incident involving a high school student who had been robbed at gunpoint.

The lawsuit also states that Hopfinger had issued complaints about Fletcher before and that Fletcher had told a former chief that Hopfinger was a “thorn in his side” and that “he [Fletcher] needed to do something with [Hopfinger].”

In March 2017 Hopfinger was summoned to a meeting with Fletcher, Rolf and Kolweier in a attempt to “start working together and get on the same page.” Mayor Kolweier allegedly told Hopfinger and Fletcher that they were to meet once a day to resolve those issues, the suit says.

The suit also alleges that from that March meeting to Hopfinger’s firing, Fletcher rarely spoke to him. In July, the chief allegedly told Hopfinger that he did not trust him, and during that same month, Hopfinger was told by another officer that Fletcher was trying to get Rolf to agree that Hopfinger should be fired.

Fletcher handed Hopfinger a letter on Aug. 22, telling him that his employment was to be terminated. A copy of the letter was included in the lawsuit, which said Hopfinger’s service was no longer needed and the firing was effective immediately.

The lawsuit states that Hopfinger was fired in retaliation for his exercising his First Amendment right of free speech as well as his right to be protected under the Illinois Whistleblower Act, which allows him to disclose information about his employer without any punishment.

Hopfinger is also suing for defamation of character and breach of contract. The suit states that on Aug. 26, a few days after his termination, Fletcher told multiple people at a bar in Nashville an untrue statement in that Hopfinger’s firing was bad and “criminal.”

The breach of contract alleges he was fired without written charges and an opportunity to speak in his defense.

A phone call to Rolf was not returned as of press time Friday.