by Brent Hovey
Aurora -- An officer who was dismissed from duty, then later reinstated after an arbitrator's decision, is now suing Aurora's police chief and mayor.
Joseph LaPerna, a 12-year veteran of the Aurora Police Department, filed a complaint Sept. 9 with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against Chief Seth Riewaldt and Mayor Lynn McGill. The civil case stems from McGill's termination of LaPerna upon the recommendation of Riewaldt after LaPerna was involved in an off-duty traffic incident Feb. 17, 2006.
LaPerna claims his termination was arbitrary and without just cause. He seeks "appropriate" back pay, as well as general, compensatory and punitive damages. The complaint does not specify an amount.
Both McGill and Riewaldt said they could not comment since the case is in litigation. Calls to LaPerna's attorney, Douglas Hams, were not returned.
According to the city's reports from an investigation of the incident conducted by the police department, LaPerna was on his way to work in his personal vehicle that morning when he apparently noticed a vehicle cross a double-yellow line and began a high speed chase that reached speeds up to 60 mph.
The pursuit lasted just a few minutes until the driver stopped. Riewaldt said LaPerna and the driver reported they had a verbal confrontation and the officer was in plain clothes.
After an internal investigation, McGill found LaPerna to be in violation of seven police department rules of conduct, and LaPerna's employment was terminated May 2, 2006.
On Jan. 12, 2007, arbitrator Robert Stein ordered LaPerna to be reinstated to the police force without back pay or lost benefits.
In his filing, LaPerna claims the termination was "because of his sexual orientation and any other purported reason is entirely false and pretextual."
"Numerous heterosexual police officers employed by the city of Aurora Police Department have engaged in conduct similar to or much more serious than that allegedly engaged in by [LaPerna] and have received none or less discipline from [Riewaldt and McGill]," stated LaPerna's complaint.
LaPerna is making $26.01 an hour and is still on active duty with the APD, city records indicate.
Phone: 330-688-0088 ext. 3155