De’Ossie Dingus was a Tennessee State Trooper with six years on the job when he was ordered to submit to a psychological exam after he had filed a complaint about one of his commanders, James Bridgeman, who also happened to be a Baptist Preacher, leading the troopers in Christian Prayers.
Although most would argue that the right of peace officers to privately say any prayer amongst themselves even when in uniform and on duty is protected speech as long as the private prayer does not interfere with the performance of their duties, or cross into the realm of proselytizing on the taxpayer dime, this activity presumably took place during official trooper briefings, thereby dragging all present into the religious activity and placing them into the unenviable position of very obviously removing themselves from the proceedings and thereby creating the very real possibility of being alienated by their co-workers and supervisors.
Of interest is the fact that Bridgeman was Dingus’ academy commander and had provided unsolicited fried chicken to Dingus when Dingus chose not to consume the pork products that were served at the trooper academy cafeteria.
It was during this time that Dingus was often jeered and ridiculed by his classmates for adhering to his religious beliefs, especially when he would pray during free time. He was often referred to as “Nation of Islam” and “Islam”.
There is no mention as to whether Christian or Jewish cadets were heckled for saying grace or if any Catholics were referred to as Papists for refusing to eat meat products during Lent. There is also no mention as to whether Bridgeman ever quoted or referenced the Constitutions of the State of Tennessee or of the United States of America, the two governing documents to which all Tennessee State Troopers pledge obedience.
Trooper Dingus’ psychological exam
After Trooper Dingus filed his complaint, he was coincidentally ordered to take a psychological exam, an exam that he had taken and passed in order to be admitted to the trooper academy. However, this time the evaluator deemed Dingus “unfit” for duty and De’Ossie was fired in 2006.
This firing presumably occurred before there was a chance to respond to the troopers’ complaint. Dingus appealed his firing and in August 2009 an administrative law judge found that the psychological exam was “fundamentally flawed” and ordered that Dingus be reinstated.
Three months later, Trooper Dingus was attending a U.S. Army sponsored course designed to teach peace officers how to identify weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s). The course was conducted by U.S. Army Major Kevin Taylor. During this class that was supposed to be concerned with the identification of WMD’s, Major Taylor showed a video on the radicalization of children.
Trooper Dingus had a brief encounter with Taylor in which he questioned the airing of such a video and what it had to do with the training that the troopers were supposed to be receiving. As a result of this brief encounter Major Taylor apparently felt qualified to inform Trooper Dingus’ superiors that Dingus was a potential terrorist. Taylor also claimed that Dingus was belligerent and disruptive, however, none of the other thirty-five troopers attending the course substantiated those claims. In addition, an internal investigation conducted by the Tennessee Department of Safety reveled that none of Dingus’ coworkers shared the views expressed by Major Taylor.
Regardless, Dingus was ordered to undergo yet another psychological evaluation.
Further, evidence has been presented that now retired Commissioner David Mitchell, THP Colonel Mike Walker, staff attorney Deborah Martin, and human resources staffer Kerri Balthrop had all colluded to terminate Trooper Dingus before the investigation into his supposed terrorist tendencies was even completed.
Balthrop admitted that she forwarded the deeply flawed 2006 psychological evaluation to the new psychologist, Dr. Kenneth Anchor, and that she failed to inform him that a judge had already ruled the evaluation to in fact be deeply flawed. Martin wrote in an email in December 2009 that she would begin “due process” paperwork to terminate trooper Dingus as soon as she received the results of the most recent psychological evaluation. How Ms. Martins’ assumption that the results would be favorable for termination is compatible with Trooper Dingus’ due process rights has not been explained by Ms. Martin. Dingus was fired in January 2010.
Dingus filed an appeal and again an administrative law judge ordered reinstatement, back pay, and accrual of retirement. Dingus then filed a civil-rights lawsuit which just came to fruition this year.
United States District Judge Tena Campbell found that the Tennessee Highway Patrol did indeed violate Dingus’ rights by firing him based upon an unsubstantiated allegation. However, she refused to award monetary damages based upon the fact that Dingus had gotten his job back with back pay, and retirement accrual. She also criticized Dingus for his reluctance to talk about money at last year’s trial, although his attorney, Arthur Knight III made it clear that Dingus was more interested in talking about principles.
Judge Campbell failed to identify how the state will be dissuaded from committing further acts of civil-rights violations by acting upon unsubstantiated claims, if the state is not punished via financial penalization. She also failed to address how Trooper Dingus was made whole when he has not been compensated for the aggravation of having to prove his innocence, as opposed to his being proven guilty, and for the damage done to his name.
Trooper Dingus plans on filing an appeal.
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