Ex-police official fights dismissal

Former spokeswoman says firing was unfair, asks for reinstatement

Averella seeks retroactive pay

April 08, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark's former spokeswoman, Ragina Averella, says in court documents that she was unfairly dismissed from the department this year, and she has asked to be reinstated.

In a show-cause order filed in Circuit Court and received by the Police Department yesterday, Averella asks the department to explain why she was fired in February, and says she wants her job back with retroactive pay.

According to police records, Averella was let go in the aftermath of an internal investigation alleging she used sick days to stay on the police payroll after leaving the department, and at the same time was employed by the Maryland State Police as spokeswoman. Averella left the department after being removed as spokeswoman by Clark in July. After briefly working for the state police, Averella was rehired by the Baltimore Police Department in October last year.

However, on Feb. 20, Averella received notice that "an ongoing investigation precluded her from being re-certified as a police officer," court records show.

In an earlier memo to Averella, the department contended that the double employment took place from July 31 to Sept 9 and on Sept. 18.

Averella's lawyer, Michael E. Davey, said her supervisors knew she was being paid for her sick days after she left. "She was on both payrolls, and the department knew about it," Davey said.

Averella declined to comment yesterday. According to her filing, Deputy Police Commissioner Kenneth Blackwell "advised her that she could use all of her accumulated leave including compensatory leave, annual leave and medical leave until it ran out."

Davey also said Averella was fired without a hearing, which he argues violates the state's Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights.

Police spokesman Matt Jablow declined to comment on the case, saying that it is a personnel matter and that litigation is pending. But he said police policy is that employees generally are not paid for unused sick time when they leave the department, unless they have been with the agency more than 20 years.

Averella had been with the department about 12 years. She was its public face from 2000 to 2003, primarily working for former Commissioner Edward T. Norris, who recently pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in connection with using a police charity fund to bankroll personal items and romantic liaisons.

Norris left the department in December 2002 to become state police superintendent, and Clark took over soon after.

After Clark removed Averella from her post as director of public affairs in July last year, she quickly joined the Maryland State Police as a spokeswoman for Norris.

Averella, a police officer before taking over as the city department's chief spokeswoman, later quit the state police and returned to the city force to become an officer. Clark approved her assignment as a police agent, police documents show.

Averella was issued a badge, uniforms and police equipment, according to the filing. In December, she completed necessary training in order to be recertified as a police officer, court records show.

In January, she was told she was being fired for "administrative reasons" at the direction of the police commissioner, according to court documents. She reported to work over the next month, until she was given the memo indicating that the department would not certify her because of the internal investigation.

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