Crime & Courts

Wichita officer files age-discrimination lawsuit over removal from SWAT team

SWAT team members surround a house after a bank robbery in 2014. A former member of the Wichita police SWAT team has filed an age-discrimination complaint against the city in federal court.
SWAT team members surround a house after a bank robbery in 2014. A former member of the Wichita police SWAT team has filed an age-discrimination complaint against the city in federal court. File photo

A former lead member of the Wichita police SWAT team – a specially trained unit that responds to high-risk situations – has filed an age-discrimination complaint against the city in federal court.

The complaint, filed by Richard McCluney on June 19, says that he resigned his position on the SWAT team “under duress and at the direction of” police Deputy Chief John Speer and that he was discriminated against because of his age. Speer told McCluney’s SWAT commander that McCluney was “too old,” the lawsuit says. At the time, McCluney was 57.

McCluney is 58 now and works at the Patrol North bureau, said Sean McGivern, one of the Wichita lawyers representing the officer. Beyond that, McGivern couldn’t comment, he said Thursday.

Wichita police Capt. Doug Nolte, a spokesman for the Police Department and the city on the matter, confirmed Thursday that McCluney remains an officer with the agency but said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit.

Speer said Thursday: “We have seen the complaint and read McCluney’s version of events, and we are reviewing his claims. But the legal process needs to be followed, and any further comments should be respectful of it.”

McCluney has requested a jury trial in federal court in Wichita and is seeking a judgment “greater than $75,000,” according to the lawsuit complaint signed by his lawyers. The discrimination caused McCluney to suffer damages including “loss of hazard and overtime pay,” the document says.

McCluney has 26 years of experience in law enforcement, including 21 with the Wichita police SWAT unit, and he had been a lead trainer for the team and been in hundreds of SWAT operations, the lawsuit says.

“SWAT” stands for “special weapons and tactics.” The unit responds to situations including active shooters, high-risk arrests and standoffs.

“As a qualified SWAT team operator, McCluney was asked to participate in the United States Government’s Anti-Terrorist Assistance Program and was assigned along with Navy SEAL and Army Special Forces members to highly classified missions in Iraq,” the lawsuit says.

In 2013, the city awarded him the Silver Wreath of Valor for “actions taken during a SWAT operation,” it says.

The lawsuit alleges that on July 31, 2014, Speer, a deputy chief, told Lt. Kevin Vaughn about McCluney: “He is too old, give him his medal, give him his party and tell him to move on.”

Speer also told Vaughn that he thought McCluney was falsifying his physical fitness tests to remain with SWAT, the complaint says, adding: “Speer had no basis to make that statement then and he has no basis to make that statement today.”

On Aug. 7, 2014, Speer met with the SWAT unit and made these statements, the lawsuit says: “I intend to have a young team.” “Eventually no one over forty years old will be allowed on my team.” “Some of you are old, quit hoarding the training and information from younger officers.” “We are all men here, this is a conversation among men, so if you want to make a stink over this, go right ahead, bring on your H.R., bring on your F.O.P., bring on your lawyers, I’m the Colonel, and Deputy Chiefs don’t lose.”

Paul Zamorano, president of the local police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, said Thursday that he couldn’t comment.

In late August or early September 2014, the complaint says, Sgt. Kevin Kochenderfer told the SWAT team he had a message from Speer: that Vaughn had been removed as commander of the unit and that “certain members of the unit who had reached the age of 40” would be retired from SWAT. Kochenderfer told McCluney and two other people that he had been sent by Speer to get their resignations from the unit, the complaint says.

The lawsuit says McCluney has “exhausted all administrative remedies prior to bringing suit.”

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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