Detroit — A former Detroit police homicide sergeant says he was transferred out of the unit for reporting fraud, but department officials say he was moved for hurling a racial slur at an African-American subordinate.
Sgt. Joseph Abdella filed a whistle-blower lawsuit earlier this month claiming he was transferred to the Mounted Unit for uncovering overtime abuse in the department’s Homicide Section.
But Police Chief James Craig insisted Wednesday Abdella was moved because he allegedly called a female subordinate a “black (expletive)” during an argument.
Allegations of overtime improprieties in the Homicide Section also have been brought by a lieutenant, whose charges have prompted an Internal Affairs investigation.
Abdella supervised a joint task force of investigators responsible for cases involving multiple deaths, police-involved shootings and narcotics-related killings. The unit consisted of six Detroit police officers and 10 Michigan State Police troopers, according to the lawsuit filed earlier this month in Wayne Circuit Court, which seeks more than $25,000 in damages.
After being assigned to the task force in November 2013, “Abdella corrected a pattern and practice of time-clock fraud and overtime fraud he observed among the Detroit police officers assigned to his team,” the lawsuit said.
He says officers were arriving late to work and leaving early; loafing during normal work hours and then claiming they needed to put in for overtime to complete tasks; and falsely claiming they needed to appear in court on murder cases to get paid “court time.”
Abdella says in his suit he cracked down on the behavior by forcing officers to account for their time, and that “they complained to him that supervisors who preceded Abdella’s tenure had permitted them to work independent of supervision, with the result that they arrived late, left early, or took extended breaks during the work day without loss of pay,” the suit said.
“The officers ... sought a return to the previous lax supervision that had permitted them to earn compensation to which they were not entitled,” the lawsuit said, and wanted Abdella removed as supervisor.
Officer Kelly Mullins in May filed a complaint with the department’s Equal Opportunity Employment coordinator, alleging Abdella had discriminated against her. Another supervisor claimed to overhear the slur.
“Mullins’ allegation was categorically false and was motivated by the improper purpose of having Abdella removed from his position as a supervisor at the joint task force so that the police officers there could resume their unsupervised practices intended to maximize their wages, overtime and court time,” according to the lawsuit.
In August, Craig reassigned Abdella to the Mounted Unit. The chief also ordered an Internal Affairs investigation into the alleged racial epithet.
The department in September issued disciplinary charges against Abdella, accusing him of conduct unbecoming an officer, according to the lawsuit.
“As the result of the reassignment from the Homicide Section joint task force to the Mounted Section ... Abdella has lost and can expect to lose significant compensation,” the lawsuit said.
Craig said Wednesday that Abdella was transferred to the Mounted Unit in August because of the argument.
“There was an allegation of a hostile work environment, and we couldn’t leave him in that unit,” Craig said. “If he’s suggesting he got moved because he was reporting fraud, it’s just not true.”
Abdella’s attorney, Jeffrey Ellison, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Other allegations of improprieties in the Homicide Section were brought by Lt. Joseph Tiseo, a supervisor in the unit.
“That’s an ongoing internal investigation,” Craig said, declining further comment.