January 12, 2017 01:05AM
By Jason Vallee
Sun staff writer
CHARLESTOWN — Town attorneys and officials are challenging the merits of two lawsuits filed by a local police officer and competitive body builder claiming he was discriminated against by his supervisors based on learning disabilities associated with his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Evan Speck, an 11-year member of the Charlestown Police Department and a bodybuilder who has been active in competition as recent as November, filed a lawsuit against the town and police department on Dec. 23 claiming he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the retaliation for a separate ADHD disability claim previously filed with the department. The lawsuit does not request a specific financial award.
Town Administrator Mark S. Stankiewicz said Wednesday the town is challenging the lawsuit, and he is confident that once the facts of the case become clear in court the case will be dismissed.
“We fully believe we will prevail on this case, which is frivolous by nature,” Stankiewicz said. “I have worked closely with Chief Allen since he has been here and have nothing but the utmost confidence that he has and will continue to do the right thing for the department, the town and the State of Rhode Island.”
Stankiewicz said he could not discuss details of the case. He said the town disagrees with Speck’s assessment, however, and will continue to challenge the lawsuit in court.
In the lawsuit, which specifically targets the actions of Allen and Lt. Michael Paliotta, Speck’s attorney, Edward C. Roy Jr., argues that his superiors halted his pay and health-care coverage and denied him injured-on-duty status as retaliation for exercising his disability rights related to ADHD and PTSD, both of which are classified as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The lawsuit marks the second filed against the town by Speck, who initially entered a complaint with the state in May alleging he was wrongly suspended and ordered to undergo a specific “fitness for duty evaluation” to determine whether he was still capable of working as a police officer after he was unable to review newly instituted policies issued for the Charlestown Police Department.
According to the lawsuit, which is available both through the U.S. District Court in Providence and through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records website, Speck claims he was the target of ongoing discrimination that included an invasive blood test ordered by Allen in 2013 and that the discrimination became extensive in January 2016 after his condition left him unable to complete the required policy review.
A message left for Roy, Speck’s attorney, was not returned Wednesday afternoon. Speck could not be reached for comment.
Allen said that information contained in the complaint is inaccurate — an argument supported in court documents filed by the town challenging the complaint.
“Everything in the lawsuit is completely false. I am disheartened that some people will go to these lengths to achieve their personal objectives, whatever those may be,” Allen said. “I have always and will continue to do what’s right for the community and to protect the taxpayers of Charlestown and the State of Rhode Island. I am completely confident that this case will be dismissed.”
Allen said he is unable to comment further on details of the case while it remains active.
Both Speck’s lawsuit and the town’s response acknowledge that in December 2015, Speck was asked to review and respond to a change in department policy. When he was unable to do so in a timely fashion, both said he was placed on administrative leave in early January 2016 pending completion of the review, a requirement that the town argues was given to every officer.
Speck notified the town at that time that his ADHD was effecting his ability to complete the review, according to the lawsuit, but a town response to the claim indicated that he also disclosed to Paliotta that he had previously suffered brain damage as a result of a boxing injury. As a result, according to the town’s response, the department requested he complete a “fitness for duty evaluation,” which was not returned to the town until late March. He was left on paid administrative leave during that time.
On March 28, 2016, the town asked him to return to work after Dr. Paul Malloy, of Butler Hospital, indicated Speck had not, in fact, suffered a brain injury. Malloy also determined there was no clear evidence of ADHD, instead diagnosing Speck with verbal processing disorder. Butler also stated in a letter to the town that the condition should not be a barrier to the performance of his duties.
Speck returned to active service in April after completing his policy review and continued to work through early May, when Roy delivered an “injured on duty” complaint to the town alleging he was discriminated against for his ADHD and for that reason, he was unable to work.
The town filed a brief in response to the lawsuit that noted Speck has remained active in personal interests since he began taking leave from the department in January. Speck used personal, vacation and sick leave to cover his absence but exhausted that time on Sept. 16, according to court documents.
According to court documents, the town argues Speck maintained a personal interest in bodybuilding and took part in competitions in Connecticut, Florida and Nevada at different points in 2016 when he claimed his disability prevented him from working. The counter response also indicates that Speck was able to purchase a BMW, paid for home renovations and traveled regularly to New York for bodybuilding treatment since first beginning his leave in January 2016.
Speck displayed pictures from competitions to his Twitter account — the account was shut down sometime Tuesday — as well as through his Instagram account, which was still active as of noon on Wednesday. Pictures from both accounts show active participation in competition as recently as November.
His Instagram account also indicates he is an active NCP competitor and is sponsored by the VPX Bang brand, a company that specializes in energy, pre-workout and other performance-based drinks.
The town also indicated in its counter motion that it rescinded Speck’s pay “only after he had exhausted” all paid leave, and that retaliation was never a factor. The IOD case has been sent to arbitration with a scheduled hearing on Jan. 23.
Lt. Patrick McMahon, who serves as union president, said Wednesday that the union is supporting his efforts in that arbitration as a means of representing all officers and protecting IOD rights for the collective. He indicated that when it comes to the district court cases, however, the union will not represent or release an opinion on the matters related to the U.S. District Court cases. He said both civil cases are a private matter that will be handled by Speck and his attorney.
“Our job is to address these issues, not on an individual basis, but in respect to the effect it could have collectively on other officers,” McMahon said. “In respect to Officer Speck, that is what we intend to do.”