On Tuesday, Oct. 17th, the Ashland Board of Aldermen voted to reduce the salary of Chief Gabe Edwards by 50%, bringing his hourly rate to $18.24, as he remains on paid administrative leave. The reduction follows the filing of a lawsuit on Oct. 16th against the City by former officer Thomas Whitener. Whitener claims the City wrongfully terminated him after he accused Chief Edwards of misconduct.
According to the lawsuit, Whitener alleged that he “repeatedly observed unlawful or unethical conduct” by Chief Edwards, including the following:
- Deliberately resubmitting his wife’s name to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Program (POST) which allowed her to carry a concealed weapon in every state under the Law Enforcement Officer’s Safety Act, even after she left the APD in 2019.
- Routinely accessing restricted information through the Criminal Justice Information System without a law enforcement purpose, then publishing the information under a Facebook alias.
- Using racial slurs and other racially charged language, including asking a former black employee “Did you get some weed, n*gga?”
- Bragging that, in his role as the City’s IT support person, he looked through City employees’ email accounts while working on IT issues.
- Offering to share nude photos of another city employee’s romantic partner.
- Refusing or failing to perform some of his official duties, including city projects, out of “spite”.
Whitener says he confronted Chief Edwards about the misconduct in June 2023, and after the confrontation, he, Edwards, and two unnamed officers sat down to discuss their concerns. During this conversation, the lawsuit states that Edwards admitted to some of the claims of misconduct and denied others.
The lawsuit also claims that the officers then brought their concerns to City Administrator Kyle Michel on July 13th, 2023. Four days later, Michel sent an email to all city staff members stating that Edwards had been placed on administrative leave due to a “personnel matter.” The officers say they began to worry that city staff would try to minimize or hide Edwards’ misconduct and retaliate against them for disclosing it publicly.
Whitener claims that on July 19th, 2023, Michel then called him and placed him on administrative leave pending a psych evaluation. Whitener says the city never scheduled the evaluation and asked him to come pick up his final paycheck on August 8th. When he arrived at City Hall, Whitener claims he was told that if he didn’t sign a letter of resignation, he would be terminated. Whitener says he refused to sign the letter but was then fired and removed from APD’s website.
“[Whitener] believes the proximity of his suspension to the Chief’s has led many in the community to speculate, incorrectly, that Whitener and the Chief were involved in some unlawful activity together,” a press release from Whitener’s attorneys says.
Whitener claims the city retaliated against him for disclosing Edwards’ misconduct. Since the termination of his employment, Whitener claims he has sustained damage, including lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, humiliation, and loss of reputation. Whitener is requesting that the City immediately reinstate his employment with APD, pay him back wages as well as pay his attorney fees and cost of litigation.
The City of Ashland says Whitener resigned from APD with a final pay date of Aug. 11th, 2023. The City also claims they have no record of any grievances filed by Whitener against any current or former employee of the City.
Read court document here: