Former Cincinnati cop fights to get job back

Published: May. 25, 2017 at 10:22 AM EDT|Updated: May. 31, 2017 at 7:43 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A former Cincinnati police officer is fighting to get his job back.

Jason Cotterman was administratively suspended from duty with a medical retirement recommendation by the department's psychologist in May 2016, his lawyer wrote in a letter this week to Cincinnati police's personnel section.

Now the ex-officer wants to be reinstated - or else he will sue, his lawyer says.

Cotterman's attorney, Robert Croskery of Downtown, alleges police internal investigators and the agency's psychologist acted improperly in an attempt to get rid of Cotterman, according to a letter he sent to Darla Meadors in personnel.

"We expect Cincinnati to do the right thing and reinstate him," Croskery said in an interview Thursday.

FOX19 NOW asked Cincinnati police for a response to the reinstatement request and accusations in the letter.

"The Cincinnati Police Department received the request for reinstatement from Mr. Cotterman's attorney today and it is currently under review," said Lt. Steve Saunders, police spokesman.

The police union president, Sgt. Dan Hils, declined comment.

A city spokesman referred comment to Cincinnati police.

Cotterman, 40, was acquitted of misdemeanor charges in a March 2016 trial after city prosecutors said he helped cover up a police sergeant's off-duty crash in March 2015.

He was then discharged from the police department in May 2016 for "certain medical reasons associated with the psychological assessment of fitness for duty" conducted by the police department's psychologist, James Daum, Croskery, wrote in a letter to Darla Meadows in the personnel section  of the Cincinnati Police Department.

"On its face, the timing of the administrative action, it appears suspect because it comes on the heels of his acquittal on charges of misconduct," Croskery said. "The evidence in that case exonerated  him from any impropriety in not ticketing the police sergeant who had a one car accident."

But after the police department's psychologist recommended Cotterman be medically retired from the police department, the state's pension board determined Cotterman's condition was not permanent so he was not eligible for medial retirement, Croskery's letter notes.

Because his condition was temporary, Cotterman worked hard to be re-evaluated, his lawyer wrote.

But Cotterman was forbidden further contact with Daum and his first choice of psychological assessment was "unfortunately" disqualified when that psychologist "representation that her opinion had been contaminated by Daum's representation that he had derogatory medical service records about Jason Cotterman that he was not willing to release (in spite of Mr. Cotterman's consent to release such records)," Croskery wrote.

Croskery elaborated in an interview, saying Cincinnati police and their psychologist had access to Cotterman's records from when he was a Marine.

Records he claims they should not have had access to.

"To his recollection, he has signed authorization, no form, that would allow these records to be accessed," Croskery said. "And yet, somehow, ancient medical records were dredged up and used in a psychological assessment without his knowledge or consent to fabricate a reason for the administrative discharge."

Cotterman's attorney goes on to allege "improper contact by certain Internal Investigations officers who apparently read some text messages purportedly from Mr. Cotterman, over the phone to Dr. Christine Modrall, caused her concern that she could not be wholly objective.

"The contact itself appears on its face to be highly improper and a way of doing, through administrative action, what the City had been unable to accomplish through prosecution," Croskery wrote.

"Under those circumstances, Dr. Modrall determined her opinion could not be relied upon."

Cotterman sought to find nearby psychologist who does fitness for duty evaluations for police departments.

One, Dr. Richard Bromberg, determined Cotterman's temporary condition had been alleviated through steady diet, exercise, focus on health and considerable public contact without incident.

"Based on all available information including his clinical interview, mental status examination, psychological testing and additional records, within a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, Jason Cotterman does not give evidence of having any current psychological condition that would interfere with or preclude his ability to function as a police officer for the City of Cincinnati Police Department, or any police department," Dr. Bromberg wrote.

"He appears at the present time to be fully fit to resume his active police duties. He gives evidence of being capable of withstanding the stress and pressures associated with day-to-day work activity; capable of conducting himself in an emotionally stable manner; capable of safely and responsibly carrying and using a firearm; capable of effectively responding to emergency calls to assist victims, civilian bystanders, other officers and first responders and community officials; capable of observing suspects who may be holding weapons and effectively stopping violators; capable of keeping records, filing timely reports and appropriately maintaining department equipment and property."

Cotterman has been working a full-time job in the public in a position with extensive customer service, his lawyer said.

"His supervisors will attest to his character, integrity and absolutely proper conduct," Croskery wrote.

"Mr. Cotterman does not smoke or drink, is incredibly fit and, now that he has recovered, should be immediately restored to active duty.  Please accept his application for restoration to active duty immediately, and inform us to any objections or interim steps the City desires."

Cotterman's lawyer said his client was understandably stressed after Cincinnati police charged him in July 2015 with dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice, along with Sgt. Richard Sulfsted.

"He was devastated by being charged because he's always been an outstanding cop and that's his identity," Croskery said. "He devoted his adult life to being the best police officer he could be."

Lt. Andrew Mitchell, who was a sergeant at the time of the crash, pleaded guilty in December 2015 to two traffic violations (failure to maintain reasonable control of a motor vehicle and not wearing a seat belt) was ordered to pay $315 and returned to active duty.

A misdemeanor count of reckless operation of a motor vehicle was dropped.

Both Cotterman and Sulfsted were found not guilty on all charges in a bench trial by Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Josh Berkowitz. They didn't even have to present a defense.

The judge noted that the prosecution's own witnesses, including the police department's traffic section commander, had testified the allegations shouldn't have resulted in criminal charges.

He also said the case was based on opinion and conjecture.

"I cannot, in good conscience, say that I'm firmly convinced of the truth of the charges," the judge said.

During the trial, an internal affairs investigator read several text messages exchanged between Cotterman and Sulfsted after the 2015 crash and charges being filed against them.

Cotterman jokingly texted in one message he was "worried I'm going to kill someone."

He also talked about seeing the police department psychologist, Daum.

"I'm really thinking about Dauming out," Cotterman wrote in a text message read aloud in court.

Cotterman was first on the scene the night of Mitchell's March 22, 2015 crash just before 5 a.m. on West McMicken Avenue.

A witness told authorities that Mitchell, who was a sergeant then, was speeding in a Honda minivan, running stop signs and appeared to be drunk.

Mitchell's head hit the windshield in the crash. He testified during trial he couldn't remember what happened before or during the crash or why he was in the area.

He testified in trial he drank four beers over several hours.

Cotterman has said he didn't detect the odor of alcohol on Mitchell or any other signs that he may have been drinking and felt he had no legal basis to ask Mitchell to take sobriety tests.

The witness repeatedly testified Mitchell was "wasted" but it came out later in the trial that the witness lied to authorities about whether there was someone with him that night.

The witness said he lied because she had a warrant out for her arrest.

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