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Cleveland police lieutenant sues Fourth District Commander after making secret recording

August 27, 2018

Cleveland police lieutenant sues Fourth District Commander after making secret recording

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A Cleveland police lieutenant sued his boss, Fourth District Commander Brandon Kutz, accusing him of lying to try to force his retirement.

Lt. Paul Baeppler, a 25-year veteran officer, accused Kutz of lying about his demeanor during meetings in an attempt to bring internal charges of misconduct against Baeppler and force him to resign or be fired through the city’s disciplinary process, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

Baeppler, in one instance, secretly recorded a meeting between the two. The lawsuit says that Kutz purposefully mischaracterized Baeppler’s demeanor and that the recording Baeppler made proves his claim.

Baeppler also says that he obtained surveillance video of an incident in which Kutz falsely accused Baepler of assaulting another officer.

Baeppler’s lawsuit claims Kutz violated several criminal laws, including falsification.

Baeppler, who once supervised more than 60 officers in the city’s Fourth District -- one of the busiest and most violent -- is now working the overnight shift at the city’s vehicle impound lot.

Also named in the suit is Lt. James DeFranco, who is in charge of the Fourth District detective unit.

The complaint accuses DeFranco of conspiring with Kutz. It also accuses him of assault and battery stemming from an incident at an off-site police training facility during which Baeppler says DeFranco tripped him.

Baeppler also argues that the city failed to protect him from retaliation. The suit states that Baeppler filed complaints with the city’s labor relations department, which did not take action based on Baeppler’s complaint.

The case is assigned to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shannon Gallagher. City spokesman Dan Williams declined to comment. Capt. Brian Betley, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police union that represents police supervisors, said the union is not involved in the lawsuit.

Baeppler is currently under internal investigation. That investigation is on-going and no decision has been made on disciplinary actions, according to Cleveland police spokesman Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia. 

The city, Kutz and DeFranco have not yet filed a response to the lawsuit in court. 

The rift between Baeppler and Kutz began when Kutz confronted Baeppler about rumors that he had insulted him behind his back, according to the lawsuit.

Baeppler said that several other supervisors and lieutenants later told him to “just retire” and that one fellow lieutenant told him: “The commander wants to know when you’re going to retire,” adding “This department is not the department of your dad,” referencing Baeppler’s father, the retired former Cleveland Police Commander Gregory Baeppler. 

Baeppler accuses Kutz in the lawsuit of embarking on a years-long campaign to get Baeppler fired or force him to retire.

Among the accusations in Baeppler’s lawsuit:

Kutz reviewed Baeppler’s body camera in one arrest more than 100 times in order to see if Baeppler could be disciplined for anything involving the arrest of a man who was high on PCP.Kutz brought an “overwhelming number” of internal charges against Baeppler, the majority of which were dismissed, according to the lawsuit.Kutz took Baeppler off the streets and made him review policies for the department’s use-of-force and car chases. He later assigned Baeppler to the car impound lot to work the overnight shift, which the lawsuit claims is the first time a lieutenant has ever worked that shift.During a Dec. 15, 2016 meeting with Kutz, Baeppler used a recording device to record the meeting. Kutz later accused Baeppler of being demeaning and unprofessional to other officers, but the lawsuit says Baeppler’s recording of the meeting shows otherwise.After Baeppler’s attorneys confronted Kutz during an arbitration hearing for Baeppler’s punishment, Kutz issued an order via email to other commanders that said Baeppler was only allowed to speak with officers in the Fourth Distirct with a rank of lieutenant or higher.DeFranco is accused of claiming Baeppler demanded one of DeFranco’s detectives give him the name of a confidential informant. But that detective later said that never happened.DeFranco accused Baeppler of assaulting him after a private police-training class. Baeppler, according to the lawsuit, obtained surveillance video of the incident that showed DeFranco tripping him and Baeppler never touching DeFranco.

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