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Ex-Little Rock police officer testifies on boss's bullying

by John Lynch | February 16, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

A Little Rock police officer fired for excessive force who is suing to get her job back told a Pulaski County judge that she was actually terminated for complaining about the aggressive bullying of her supervisor, a sergeant who also drew her unknowingly into his own contentious relationship with another officer.

Tiffany Malone told Circuit Judge Tim Fox that her complaints about the sergeant's abuse were either ignored or shrugged off by her superiors. Police management has a practice of treating female officers more harshly than they do male officers, Malone testified.

She's alleging gender discrimination and retaliation, with her lawsuit seeking restitution for the loss of her $45,000 a year job, along with a public apology. Malone also wants the judge to order the force to implement a training program to teach police managers how to avoid discrimination and to appoint a monitor for the department.

Along with the city of Little Rock, the defendants are the officers involved in her disciplinary history and firing, Sgt. Corey Hall, Capt. Mike Davis, Assistant Chief Wayne Bewley and Stuart Thomas, the now-retired chief of police.

Proceedings are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today with Malone, who was Tiffany Johnson during much of her time with the department, on the witness stand after testifying for three hours Wednesday. The trial is scheduled to run through Friday.

Malone spent her first hour on the stand Wednesday being questioned by her attorney, Lucien Gillham, about the way she was treated during her six years with the department.

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Malone told the judge that the way Hall subjected her to a constant barrage of profane and abusive language during the years he was her boss drove her into a depression that required medication.

His angry manner, which seemed to be directed solely at her, caused her to lose sleep and stop eating regularly, she said. He berated her so often that it became a joke for some in the department when they heard that Hall was trying to find her, she testified.

"He didn't curse at other officers," Malone said, adding that Hall talked to her like she was an animal. She was afraid of Hall, and did not think their superiors would do anything about his behavior, she told the judge.

Malone said Hall sexually propositioned her once after his girlfriend, another officer, had accused them of having an affair. She said Hall told her then that he had once recommended her for extended punishment for a department infraction just to quell his girlfriend's suspicions about them.

Malone said that admission confirmed her long-held suspicions that women were routinely treated worse than men on the department.

Malone was a Little Rock officer for almost seven years when she was fired in May 2013 for the way she had handled an arrest seven months earlier of a drunken, one-legged, 44-year-old man who was in handcuffs.

An internal investigation determined that she had pepper-sprayed the man without good reason, misled investigators about how the man came to kick her during the encounter and was not honest about the circumstances that led to his arrest on misdemeanor charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct and third-degree battery.

The day's proceedings ended after Deputy City Attorney Alex Betton played a 14-minute video of the arrest of Randy O'Neal Coleman for the judge and questioned Malone about her role in the encounter. Betton cross-examined Malone for nearly two hours.

Malone and another officer had been called to deal with Coleman, whom they found passed out on the ground late at night in October 2012 in front of his wheelchair.

Malone reported that Coleman had been drunk and abusive from the moment the officers arrived, then turned combative when he thought the police weren't moving fast enough to help him up off the ground.

But the resulting internal probe contradicted many of her descriptions about Coleman's belligerence, and she had to admit during the investigation that she had kicked at him while he lay on the ground. She had initially denied it until she saw the video, then told investigators that the kick had been a reflex provoked by Coleman kicking at her.

Court records show that Coleman, who is sometimes homeless, has a history of arrests over accusations of drunk and disorderly conduct. He's been arrested 72 times since the night Malone helped arrest him.

Malone told investigators that she had not treated Coleman any differently than she would an able-bodied man. She testified that she only used her pepper spray because Coleman was violent and she needed to subdue him. But pressed by Betton, Malone acknowledged that she had not treated him well.

"Is it your position that in this arrest ... that you were respecting this individual?" Betton asked.

"No, I was not," Malone answered.

Betton also walked Malone through her disciplinary record with the department. She had been suspended three times before she was fired, he said. Her first suspension was for two days for falling asleep in September 2009 while she was supposed to be guarding a prisoner in the hospital.

Malone was next suspended for 10 days in November 2010 after she didn't respond to radio calls for 21 minutes because she was in a city park doing paperwork and talking on the phone with an acquaintance who was asking about working for the police.

The subsequent police probe determined that she had lied about where she'd been that night and at what times, an accusation Malone denied Wednesday. She testified that Hall had forced her to guess at those details when she couldn't recall them.

She was suspended for a month in May 2012 after secretly recording a conversation with Hall that she said included his admission that he had treated her harshly because his girlfriend was jealous of her.

That punishment included sanctions because police believed she lied to investigators about how she had met up with Hall to talk to him, according to testimony.

Metro on 02/16/2017

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