A former Wichita police officer has filed a federal lawsuit contending she was the victim of sex discrimination in how police investigated her after she was suspected in a hit-and-run accident.
Prosecutors declined to file a criminal charge against her, finding a lack of evidence, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit by Tiffany Dahlquist names as defendants the city of Wichita, City Manager Robert Layton, Police Chief Gordon Ramsay and police Detective Lance Oldridge.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Topeka on Monday, says the “majority of law enforcement officers employed by the WPD are male.”
Dahlquist was a patrol officer for six years, until February 2017.
Her lawsuit seeks “compensatory and punitive damages” but doesn’t list an amount.
The Police Department can't comment on pending litigation, department spokesman Officer Charley Davidson said Tuesday.
The lawsuit focuses on a teen’s report to police on Sept. 11, 2016, alleging that Dahlquist didn’t stop after striking the teen’s car. Evidence showed “almost no damage” to the teen’s car, the lawsuit says.
According to previous stories The Eagle has written about the incident and issues surrounding it, a 17-year-old driver called 911 to report that another car sideswiped her car near 13th and Maize and that the driver refused to pull over. The teen phoned in a description of the car, the driver and the license tag, which police traced to Dahlquist, records show.
According to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by Dahlquist, it began with a false report that Dahlquist hit the other car.
According to the lawsuit, Dahlquist, who was off duty, denied hitting the other car and said she would have stopped if she had struck it.
Police Detective Mike Amy “conducted an aggressive criminal investigation” that included her credit card receipts from a restaurant on the day of the incident and interviews of restaurant employees about how many drinks Dahlquist had. Three days after the incident, Amy and a crime lab employee went to a liquor store and convenience store to get surveillance video from street-view cameras.
Four days after the incident, Oldridge, the detective who is being sued, found liquor store video of Dahlquist buying a bottle of J. Cuervo Golden Margarita, the lawsuit says.
During a meeting with Oldridge and Dahlquist, it says, a police union representative said it was “highly unusual for an internal investigation to commence before the criminal investigation had concluded.”
Dahlquist said that on the day of the incident, she went to a gym, to a restaurant where she had three drinks and didn’t finish a fourth, then to a couple stores, to a friend’s house and to her boyfriend’s home.
On Sept. 28, 2016, 17 days after the incident, Dahlquist received a call telling her that after Amy presented his investigation to the District Attorney’s Office, it “declined prosecution for insufficient evidence,” the lawsuit says.
The next month, Oldridge “became very angry and combative” with Dahlquist, the lawsuit says.
Within days of that, a police lieutenant and sergeant were interviewing Dahlquist as part of an investigation into Oldridge’s actions, it says. Dahlquist told those investigators that Oldridge violated her constitutional rights in the criminal case by beginning an “aggressive internal investigation” at the same time of the criminal investigation and that “he spoke to her in an unprofessional manner.”
During that interview on Nov. 4, 2016, the sergeant told Dahlquist that the police chief “had concerns about how her matter had been investigated,” the lawsuit says.
Two months later, on Jan. 3, 2017, a police union representative told Dahlquist that the police Professional Standards Board was giving her an “F penalty” as a result of the internal investigation. An F penalty is punishable by firing.
On Feb. 9, 2017, a union representative told Dahlquist she would be fired four days later. But another union rep told her to only turn in her gun, badge and identification “because they believed WPD Human Resources would reinstate her employment,” it says.
When she went to her supervisor’s office to hand over equipment, she got a letter saying her employment was terminated as of 5 p.m. that day. The letter also said she was reported to have been in a hit-and-run accident and that an investigation “determined that you departed from the truth.”
Three days after her firing, she met with police human resources, and the next day a union rep told her that human resources had overturned her firing and reinstated her, the lawsuit says.
But after “enduring such an aggressive and unnecessary investigation into a fabricated story, she could no longer trust the department to protect her and provide the support she needed,” it says. So she “was forced to resign and accept a lower paying position elsewhere.”
After she left the department, “the harassment continued in the press,” the lawsuit says. “The WPD released false information to news outlets that ran stories in the Wichita Eagle that (Dahlquist) was under investigation for suspicion of drinking and driving resulting in a hit-and-run accident.”