Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Monday, December 14, 2009
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Ex-cop fights for job

A former Key West police officer will fight for his job back in court today, claiming his rights were violated when the department fired him last year for allegedly misrepresenting himself as a federal agent.

Thomas Neary filed a civil lawsuit against the city in October 2008 claiming his rights under the Florida Police Officer's Bill of Rights were violated. That document states an officer cannot be disciplined or fired for exposing wrongdoing within the department, said his attorney, Mick Barnes.

"He's asking for his job back and he's not worried about returning to the Key West Police Department," Barnes said Friday. "He's a tough guy."

Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, who will decide the case without a jury, will hear arguments from Barnes and Key West attorney Shawn Smith. Smith declined to discuss specifics of the case.

In a second and third pending lawsuit, Neary also claims the department defamed him and violated state open-records law by not providing documents that allegedly substantiate his claims, Barnes said. Today's testimony will pertain only to the alleged Officer's Bill of Rights violations.

Neary was fired over allegations that he falsely told other officers he was a federal agent sent to infiltrate the Police Department and other city organizations to expose corruption.

The department also alleged Neary discussed confidential information regarding a criminal investigation that he "was not privileged to know or discuss," and that he convinced other officers that "information was to be kept confidential between him and the witness officers," according to court documents.

Neary denied the allegations and has maintained his innocence since October 2007, when he was placed on administrative leave. Neary was not charged with a crime, but fired in May 2008 for "unbecoming conduct," according to department records.

Police since have released public records pertaining to the internal investigation into his behavior, namely pages of transcribed conversations between Internal Affairs Lt. David Smith and other officers. One claims Neary told him he had "ears" or "birds" all over the city. Another said Neary told him he was investigating the city manager and commissioners. Others say Neary claimed to be using an alias and that he was sent here to investigate the county's terrorism readiness and how the U.S. would handle Fidel Castro's death.

Neary denied the accusations and accused the department of altering the transcripts, changing key dates of when the interviews occurred, and declining to interview other key witnesses in his defense.

The FBI began its own investigation in 2007 after several officers contacted an agent to determine whether Neary worked for the bureau. That investigation found no criminal wrongdoing, records show.

The officers reportedly were concerned that if Neary was an agent, he was blowing his cover by initiating discussions about the case. Neary, on the other hand, claims he began hearing rumors from other officers that he was a federal agent and that he instigated no such discussions.

Neary said other officers came to him and said he had "too much experience" in law enforcement to be a patrolman, so he must be a "plant" or undercover officer working for a federal agency.

Neary was hired on April 25, 2005, and earned $42,446 annually, according to city records.

The Police Department erred in the investigation when it reported Neary's confiscated gun may have been stolen. It later acknowledged that was based on the gun's manufacturing parts number instead of the serial number.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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