Former Rocky Mount Police officer sues town over “harassment and retaliation”

New Rocky Mount, VA logo, announced 9.3.21
New Rocky Mount, VA logo, announced 9.3.21(Town of Rocky Mount)
Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 1:27 PM EDT
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ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (WDBJ) - A former Rocky Mount Police officer has sued the town, claiming retaliation from the police chief led him to resign.

Justin Smith is hoping for a jury trial so he can be awarded “injunctive and equitable relief, compensatory and punitive damages, together with pre-judgment interest and for costs and attorney’s fees to the extent recoverable by law, and for such other and further relief as may be just and equitable,” according to court documents acquired by WDBJ7.

Smith was hired as a police officer in Rocky Mount in 2017, and during his time there, according to court documents, he learned Police Chief Ken Criner “had made terribly inappropriate and offensive comments concerning female employees and other women and in particular one of Criner’s administrative assistants, who at the time was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, all of which over time created an extremely hostile work environment.”

The suit indicates Kriner thought the employee with breast cancer was “milking” her situation, abusing sick leave and using insurance money to go on vacation. The suit claims Kriner used extremely derogative language toward this employee and other female employees, even wanting to fire some so he could instead “hire some hotties.”

Smith helped two employees, including the one with cancer, file complaints with the town. As a response, according to the lawsuit, Chief Criner put all overtime on hold, affecting Smith’s income as an investigator who worked as necessary, then demoted him. The suit also claims the town blamed Smith and other employees for causing a town investigation, which cost the town money, and blamed Smith for being a source of information for a local newspaper article about the chief’s conduct.

Smith left the department in 2020, “as a result of harassment and retaliation,” according to the suit. A year later, the town “finally forced Criner to retire as Chief of Police.” After that, Smith claims, Criner drove his motorcycle past Smith’s mother’s house, where Smith was on the porch, and “made a rude or obscene gesture with his middle finger.”

Smith says as a result of the actions taken against him, he has suffered and will continue to suffer “tangible employment actions, pecuniary loss, mental anguish, pain and suffering, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, loss of enjoyment of life and other non-pecuniary loss.” He says in the suit the town “acted willfully toward plaintiff with actual malice or with reckless disregard of the protected rights of plaintiff so as to support an award of punitive damages.”

When asked for comment, Rocky Mount Town Manager Robert Wood relayed the following statement:

“Given that this is a legal and personnel matter (that we were just notified of late Friday afternoon), the Town does not have any comment at this time.”

CAUTION: GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING LANGUAGE / Below are the court documents referenced in the above story.

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