The New Orleans Police Department terminated an officer last month because she was not medically able to perform her job, the department said. However, that ex-officer, Shannon Reeves, said she believes the real reason for her dismissal was retaliation after she complained about workplace sexual harassment and criticized the way that complaint was handled.
"They had a target on my back," Reeves said.
Reeves, 43, who was on the force nearly 20 years, said NOPD terminated her without first giving her an opportunity to resign and did so without consulting her therapist about her medical condition.
Reeves was one of three female police officers who told internal investigators that Rhett Charles, a sergeant at the time, made sexualized comments to them at work. Reeves said she thought NOPD was not taking the complaint seriously enough, so she sought help from the Independent Police Monitor, a publicly funded NOPD watchdog group. Ultimately, the police department's internal investigation found evidence supporting the female police officers' claims, including an audio recording Reeves captured of Charles talking to her about her breasts and telling her what he would do if they were to have sex.
In November, NOPD demoted Charles, stripping him of the rank of sergeant and from any supervisory duties. Charles remains at the NOPD with the rank of senior police officer. He has appealed his demotion, which remains under review.
Six months later, on May 23, NOPD terminated Reeves.
"I get fired, and a person that sexually harassed multiple other females still has a job. It's disgraceful," Reeves said. "It's condescending. It's disrespectful."
Reeves' termination letter, signed by NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison, states a three-person panel recommended her dismissal because her "medical prognosis has not changed" since she was placed in the Administrative Duties Division in May 2014. Her dismissal was the result of Civil Service Rule IX proceedings, which come into play when NOPD or another city agency seeks to determine if a classified employee "is unable or unwilling to perform the duties of his/her position in a satisfactory manner," according to the New Orleans Civil Service rule.
Reeves has been on limited duty, "on and off," since May 2014, states the dismissal letter. Four officers have been on limited duty longer than Reeves has, records show. An additional officer has been on limited duty without pay since 2012.
July 19 would have marked Reeves' 20th anniversary with the department, at which point she would have been eligible to receive an ongoing monthly pension if she retired. She questioned why NOPD terminated her in May, rather than giving her an option to retire in a matter of weeks, considering that the stated reason for her dismissal was, in her words, "because I'm sick."
Susan Hutson, the Independent Police Monitor who runs the NOPD watchdog group, said the timing of Reeves' termination raised questions for her, as well.
"One of the things we look at here (is) retaliation issues," Hutson said. "It's something I'm very sensitive to, something we watch very closely and something we want to make sure that's not going on in (Reeves' case)."
NOPD, through spokesman Gary Scheets, declined to respond to Reeves' claims that her dismissal was retaliatory or to answer questions about the circumstances of her termination and the hearing that preceded it. An emailed response to a request for comment about Reeves' claims stated Harrison accepted the recommendation to terminate Reeves and that she was "unable to perform her duties in accordance with Civil Service Rule IX."
"NOPD has no further comment on this matter," the statement said.
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Aspects of how NOPD handled Reeves' Rule IX hearing troubled Reeves and her attorney, Ellyn Clevenger, they said. NOPD wasn't willing to delay the hearing, though Reeves had asked for a continuance because one of her attorneys who was most familiar with aspects of her case wasn't available.
In addition, they said one of the people involved in the decision to fire Reeves, NOPD Maj. Raymond Burkart Jr., had told her months earlier that he would recommend NOPD terminate her. Reeves and Clevenger had informed NOPD they felt it would be a conflict to have him at the hearing, but he still participated.
Reeves acknowledges she has missed work, mostly because of migraines she and her therapist say she suffers as a symptom of her post traumatic stress disorder. Reeves missed 126 days in 2017, according to NOPD records she provided to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. After using up her sick days, vacation days and vacation days donated by colleagues, she was not paid for any days she did not work, she said. Since a worker's comp claim was denied, Reeves said she has been paying out of pocket for doctors and therapy with the help of family, but noted the missed worked has taken a toll.
"I almost lost my house for it," she said.
Before she was diagnosed, Reeves' assignments included working for about four years as a homicide detective in the early 2000s. She said was eager to get "back on the street" and believed her health was improving enough to soon return to full-duty.
Each month, Reeves said, she has turned in the required forms with a note from her therapist stating she was not medically able to return to full duty. Most of the forms listed the beginning of the following month as a date when she could return to full duty - a date that was then repeatedly pushed back.
However, Reeves' therapist and licensed clinical social worker Eliot Levin, who wrote those notes, said he was willing to speak with NOPD to answer any questions about Reeves' mental health status. He sent a letter to the department before the May hearing, "describing in detail what she could do or couldn't do." "Not once," Levin said, was he contacted by anyone from NOPD regarding Reeves.
Reeves has also been seen by at least two other health professionals, including Dr. Erich Conrad, a practicing psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Louisiana State University School of Medicine.
"If they did talk to any other doctors, certainly they didn't give them any credibility," Levin said of the panel's decision to recommend Reeves' termination. "The police department stonewalled us. All of her doctors."
Reeves said she was first diagnosed with PTSD in 2006, after her partner took her to a hospital upon noticing she was lightheaded and had nearly fallen down. The PTSD stemmed from her experiences working during Hurricane Katrina, Reeves said, but the symptoms were exacerbated in 2014 when other officers learned of her diagnosis and she felt she had been stigmatized. The sexual harassment that started in late 2016 also exacerbated her symptoms, she said.
Reeves' status wasn't unusual for the department. At the time she was fired, Reeves was one of about 100 officers in the Administrative Duties Division, which includes officers on worker's comp, extended sick leave, limited duty, leave without pay and military leave. About half were on limited duty - the category Reeves was in before she was terminated - and about 38 percent of those officers have been on limited duty longer than a year.
Reeves was one of nine commissioned officers on NOPD's roughly 1,200-member force who was terminated since Jan. 1, 2017, NOPD records show. One of the three other officers who was terminated in 2018 was fired for misconduct, another was for "dishonesty," and a recent recruit was terminated for violating his probationary terms, department records show. Reeves was the only officer terminated this year for being "unable to perform." NOPD's records didn't specify the reasons for the terminations of the five officers fired in 2017.