Police Captain Fired After ‘Signgate’ Files Lawsuit Against Greenwich, Officials
June 30, 2020
GREENWICH — Former police Capt. Mark Kordick has led a lawsuit against the town of Greenwich, First Selectman Fred Camillo, former First Selectman Peter Tesei and two others claiming that his rights were violated when he was red earlier this year.
Notice of the lawsuit was sent to the town Monday, and it was filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Stamford. In it, Kordick says his right to free speech was violated, that the town illegally removed political campaign signs he had put up as a registered voter and that the town retaliated against him for engaging in a protected right to engage in political speech while off-duty.
“As a result of the (town’s) conduct, Mark Kordick has suffered and will continue to suffer economic damages,” the lawsuit says, adding that Kordick has also suffered damage to his reputation, humiliation and emotional distress.
He is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 as well as lost wages and back pay, future lost wages and loss of benets. The claim seeks compensation for emotional distress, attorneys’ fees and “other such relief that this court deems just and proper.”
Kordick, a 31-year veteran of the GPD, was terminated in late February. He had been placed on paid leave on Oct. 28 after he admitted to paying for anonymous political signs linking Camillo, who was then the Republican candidate running for first selectman, to President Donald Trump
The signs made it seem that Camillo endorsed Trump or vice versa, and included a website address that seemed to be for Camillo but actually directed visitors to a pro-Trump website. They also angered the Camillo campaign and town Republicans, who called the signs fraudulent.
During a debate last fall, Camillo called the stunt “one of the lowest things I’ve seen in a political race.”
In addition to Camillo and Tesei, the lawsuit also names as defendants former Republican Town Committee Chair Richard DiPreta and Jack Kriskey, who ran Camillo’s successful campaign for first selectman. Kordick alleges the four acted “with malice” to retaliate against him for political speech critical of Camillo by revealing his identity, making a complaint to the police and involving the department in a political matter.
Kordick also says the signs should not have been removed, alleging that Tesei, Camillo and the others put pressure on the police to have the signs removed after the department had initially declined to do so. In the suit, Kordick alleges that the GPD “initially recognized that they were constitutionally prohibited from interfering with political speech” by allowing the signs to be removed. It also cites an email he says Capt. Robert Berry sent to staff saying not to get involved “in a politically charged issue” because as sworn police officers the department had to remain neutral.
But Kordick said that Tesei, whose powers as first selectman includes police commissioner, reached out to Berry to participate in a teleconference with Camillo, Kriskey and then Town Attorney Wayne Fox. Kordick claims that after this meeting, “the Greenwich Police Department reversed itself” and allowed the RTC to remove the signs, which had been legally placed on town property. “
“The defendants’ improper removal of the political signs violated Mark Kordick’s right of free expression under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit alleges.
The GPD could not immediately be reached for comment. Tesei, Kriskey and DiPreta all said they had no comment on Tuesday. Camillo also declined to comment given that it is an ongoing legal matter. The town attorney’s office is expected to file a response to Kordick’s lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that the Camillo campaign, after finding out where the signs were printed in Texas, attempted to call the store to get a receipt. After they were rebuffed, they paid someone in Texas to go to the store and access a receipt that showed that Kordick had paid for the signs, the lawsuit says.
“The Camillo campaign lied to the hired individual, telling him that a campaign worker purchased the signs and that they lost track of the individual’s name,” the suit states. “They told the individual that they needed the receipt for the campaign nance report.”
Kordick claims that the person got his name and sent it to the campaign. Kordick alleges the expense was later reimbursed with campaign funds.
The lawsuit claims this was an illegal use of campaign funds under campaign nance laws and violated Kordick’s privacy and right to anonymously place the signs, making him subject to retaliation once his name was reported to the Greenwich Police Department.
Kordick said he had not given the store permission to reveal his identity and said the Camillo campaign only got it through giving false information.
“The town of Greenwich had no right to become involved in a political dispute involving Mark Kordick’s off-duty choice to post political signs critical of Fred Camillo,” the lawsuit alleges.
It asserts the town ran a “sham investigation” into the matter and that the decision to discharge him was made on the day his name was revealed to the police department.
“The ‘investigation’ was merely a post-hoc effort to cover this blatant retaliation for constitutionally protected political speech,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit states the signs were within state law, and Kordick was not obligated to identify himself on them.
Kordick’s attorney, Lewis Chimes, argues in the lawsuit that the signs linking Camillo and Trump were satire and clearly not meant to be viewed as part of the Camillo campaign.
“The satirical mocking nature of the political signs was self-evident,” the suit states, and they were “absolutely protected speech” under the First Amendment.
“Mark Kordick, like many others, perceived that highlighting Fred Camillo’s prior support of Trump and steady avoidance of association with the incumbent president in his campaign were potentially powerful issues to raise against Fred Camillo in the campaign,” the lawsuit says. “It is beyond dispute that political speech during an election campaign is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Kordick has had past disciplinary problems. In 2018, he was reportedly placed on leave after letters of complaint were led against him by town Human Resources Director Mary Pepe and Joseph Pellegrino, head of the Retirement Board, claiming Kordick had acted in a hostile and unprofessional manner.
Others, including another member of the Retirement Board, defended Kordick at the time, saying the complaints were unfounded.
In 2015, Kordick was placed on administrative leave for an undisclosed personnel matter. Earlier that year, he had been ordered to attend classes for improper actions regarding town resident Arthur “Cort” Wrotnowski and his efforts to campaign against Common Core education standards.
Kordick had reportedly notified school district administration of Wrotnowski’s statements at a public meeting and followed up with more information about Wrotnowski’s activities without authorization to do so.
However, in the lawsuit, Chimes argues that Kordick’s past disciplinary issues were not because of his political views and that his “open expression of his political views never interfered with his performance as a police officer in an impartial manner,” and never interfered with his duties or “affected the integrity of the Greenwich Police Department.”
The lawsuit notes Kordick’s party registration as a Democrat and his vocal opposition to Trump’s policies and behavior on social media, but claims his statements were all made as a private citizen and not in his capacity as a police officer.
“Mark Kordick has never used his position as a captain in the Greenwich Police Department as a platform for expression of his political views,” the lawsuit states. “Mark Kordick has never expressed his political views in a manner that exploited his position as a police captain in order to gain credibility or authority.”