Union sues IRS over arrestWASHINGTON -- Acting on behalf...

Newswatch ... on federal workers

November 28, 1990|By Mick Rood | Mick Rood,States News Service

WASHINGTON — Union sues IRS over arrest

WASHINGTON -- Acting on behalf of an Internal Revenue Service employee, a federal workers union has filed a $500,000 suit against the IRS, alleging that its agents illegally arrested, searched and humiliated the employee because of an unpaid, 8-year-old $60 fine and a baseless drug possession suspicion.

The National Treasury Employees Union filed the suit Nov. 23 in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va., on behalf of Lorenzo C. Terrell, an order clerk for the IRS and an NTEU shop steward.

In the suit, Terrell claims that an arrest order based on the unpaid court fee had been purged from the files of Richmond police. But the order was reissued the day of Terrell's arrest, March 27, 1990, the suit says.

The four IRS agents allegedly subjected Terrell to "false arrest and imprisonment, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress" to search him for evidence of drug possession, the suit states. No such evidence was found, union attorneys say.

The suit says the incident started when two IRS inspectors confronted Terrell at his workplace and conducted an extensive body search. The agents then called in Richmond police, who led Terrell in handcuffs past a group of his co-workers. Terrell was held for two hours and released.

Terrell is seeking $250,000 in compensatory damages and an equal amount in punitive damages.

An IRS spokesman said the agency would have no comment on a pending legal matter.

NTEU President Robert M. Tobias, however, called the arrest "an appalling abuse of federal agency authority."

"IRS inspectors had no right serving a Virginia arrest warrant, and no law enforcement official in his right mind would have someone handcuffed, searched and arrested for failing to pay $60 in 8-year-old court fees," Tobias said.

Timing is everything:

In a quick study of the effects of the government shutdown over the Columbus Day weekend Oct. 6-8, the General Accounting Office found few federal employees affected.

Had the shutdown -- which was caused by the inability of congressional and White House negotiators to reach agreement on a new budget -- occurred during the week, the effect would have been gigantic and personnel "savings" nil, the GAO said.

Using a non-comprehensive survey of 18 executive agencies, eight legislative branch offices and the federal judiciary, the auditors found only about 3,000 weekend workers were forced to stay home, most of them Interior Department employees operating national parks and visitor centers.

The Interior employees got some high visibility that weekend for having to shut down popular tourist attractions.

Had the shutdown occurred during three non-holiday weekdays in the federal offices surveyed, at least a whopping 400,000 employees would have stayed home as so-called non-essential personnel.

Further, the weekday shutdown would have cost almost $400 million, instead of contributing to deficit reduction, according to GAO. The auditors found that the costs of losing federal revenue, paying "essential" employees who would have worked and administrative expenses totaled about $546 million. Compare that with the $146 million in salaries that would not have been paid, and you get the loss.

The number of essential personnel varied wildly from agency to agency. The Environmental Protection Agency figured it had only 682 employees essential enough to work during a shutdown out of a full complement of almost 17,000 workers.

The Justice Department, on the other hand, deemed 63,000 of its 77,000 employees were essential for obvious law enforcement reasons.

Asked about other probable effects of a weekday shutdown, agency officials told GAO employee morale would surely have been hurt, no new applications for Social Security benefits would have been taken, ongoing environmental research would have been damaged, and federal trials would have been delayed, among other developments.

Because some agencies are not funded by annual appropriations from Congress, they would have been spared short-term problems. These include the General Services Administration, much of the Government Printing Office and some divisions of the Departments of Energy and Transportation.

Court orders, Navy orders:

Well-timed considering the substantial number of U.S. military personnel in the Middle East, a final rule has been issued by the Navy governing when court orders for overseas personnel can be honored.

The rule reconciles when Navy personnel can be returned to the United States and when court orders can be denied consistent with mission requirements, any international agreements and ongoing Defense Department investigations or courts-martial.

Civilian personnel and family members accompanying them on overseas assignments would be affected as well. The rule says "every reasonable effort" will be made to resolve matters without the court order respondent's being forced to return to the U.S.

The only situation in which a court order would "normally be granted" would be if Navy employees or their family members are facing felony charges or contempt charges for removal of a child from a U.S. court's jurisdiction. Otherwise, the Navy says, personnel will honor court orders based on individual circumstances in a case.

In short, officials will have some latitude. To keep the new program consistent and expeditious, the Navy designated responsibility for decisions in such cases to four offices -- the chief of Naval personnel for members of the military; the commandant of the Marine Corps for Marines; local commanders or officers in charge of civilian personnel; and the assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs for any peculiar cases that don't come under the new rule.

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