A Connecticut state police trooper has filed a federal lawsuit against eight individuals and the department that oversees the state police, alleging they retaliated by initiating sham investigations against him after he spoke out publicly against alleged unauthorized DNA collections.
The parties resolved Christopher Burns’ lawsuit against the Connecticut Department of Public Safety over the alleged unauthorized DNA collections in April 2015. According to news reports, Burns accused his superiors of telling him and other state police detectives that they had to give their own DNA samples, or they might not be allowed at crime scenes. State police wanted the samples so that unknown DNA found at crime scenes could be identified, according to reports.
Burns’ latest lawsuit was filed Friday against the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which included the state police.
Dwight Washington, commanding officer for the media relations unit of the state police, told the Connecticut Law Tribune Monday he couldn’t comment on the matter because litigation is pending.
In a 17-page lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, Burns alleges the state police waged a campaign based on lies and false investigations against him, culminating in him taking time off work for post-traumatic stress disorder.
His superiors, the lawsuit alleges, “initiated false and dubious investigations, and then prolonged them maliciously against plaintiff, in retaliation for his protected speech” and because he took leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
While out on FMLA leave for a sick child, Burns says several superiors arrived unannounced at his home and took his badge, weapons and state police vehicle. Burns was told he was being suspended, but was never told why, according to the lawsuit.
When Burns returned to work in October 2018, he was told he was being transferred, demoted and assigned to the fingerprint unit of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection’s Bureau of Identification in Middletown.
Then, the lawsuit says, a superior appeared at Burns’ home, unannounced again, this February and told him he was the subject of a criminal investigation, but refused to provide further details. Burns, the lawsuit says, was told to appear two weeks later for a criminal interview. Burns retained Salvatore Bonanno, who asked the state police for the reason for the criminal interview, but was never given one, according to pleadings. Bonanno told Burns’ superiors that his client wouldn’t appear for the interview unless ordered, the plaintiff claimed. The interview never occurred, but the experience, the lawsuit says, caused Burns undue anxiety.
On Feb. 11, Burns asked for FMLA leave again “to deal with a personal medical condition caused by a hostile work environment as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
“The condition has caused me to feel unsafe at work,” his lawsuit stated.
A later report filed on Burns’ behalf said the work environment he caused him to get PTSD. Burns remains on FMLA leave and has still never been told what the investigations aimed at him were all about, according to the lawsuit.
The defendants, the lawsuit says, “knew that their conduct was abusive, and conspired to create a hostile work environment in an attempt to force the plaintiff from his position with process, knowing that it would deny him procedural protections.”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys fees. It also seeks injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that the defendants’ acts, policies and practices violated Burns rights under both the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Its five counts allege deprivation of rights: First Amendment retaliation; violation of the FMLA; intentional infliction of emotional distress; deprivation of rights: Fourteenth Amendment; and liability under the Connecticut General Statutes.
Representing Burns is Hartford solo practitioner James Brewer, who did not respond to a request for comment Monday.