Former inspector general files lawsuit against FMPD over deception about new headquarter costs, retaliation
This article features Government Accountability Project’s Of Counsel, David Seide, and was originally published here.
he Fort Myers Police Department is now facing a lawsuit regarding its activity. On Monday, a former inspector general filed that suit against the city, FMPD, the police chief, a former major, and an investigator.
All of this is regarding allegations that a former major tried to deceive city council about the actual cost of new police headquarters. WINK News got an exclusive copy of the lawsuit moments after Donald Oswald’s lawyers filed it in federal court.
Oswald makes damning accusations against his former boss, FMPD Chief Derrick Diggs.
When former inspector general Donald Oswald resigned from the Fort Myers Police Department, he took accusations of corruption and retaliation public. He then called for an independent investigation into the police department. Many thought it stopped there, but that is not the case.
David Seide is Oswald’s attorney. Early Monday morning, Seide filed a complaint in federal court. “This lawsuit says they smeared the inspector general in a variety of ways,” Seide said.
The suit includes Chief Derrick Diggs, former Major William Newhouse, Internal Affairs Investigator Lesa Breneman, FMPD, and the City of Fort Myers. “We’ve got we can take this to a jury and 15, you know, in 15 minutes, and inspector general will testify, and we’re confident a judge and jury will find the defendants guilty,” said Seide.
The suit lays out what WINK News reporter Sydney Persing has been reporting. Oswald accused Newhouse of making an unethical order to a lieutenant. Newhouse reportedly told that lieutenant not to say anything to Fort Myers City Council about the potential cost overruns for the new police headquarters. Oswald claims that, as a result, Chief Diggs “commenced a campaign of discrimination and retaliation against Oswald so severe that he was compelled to resign.”
But, this lawsuit also suggests something new, a motive. Chief Diggs wanted the city to renew his contract. So losing the police station project “could have hurt his reputation and threatened the renewed contract he wanted.”
Then, Oswald and his lawyers make an explosive claim. “It implied that he’s a racist, it implied that he was a liar. Those are smears that the Inspector General will rebut in court under oath,” said Seide.
Defendant William Newhouse’s attorney, Robert Burdant, predicted that this lawsuit would never make it to court. “I don’t; I just don’t see it. I think federal judges are not going to tolerate this. I think it’s an abuse, actually,” Burdant said.
But, if the case does get to a jury, Burdant believes they wouldn’t buy the inspector general’s argument. “When Newhouse allegedly made this statement, nobody jumped up. And if this made him sick to his stomach, like he keeps saying, why didn’t he jump up at that time and say, ‘Wait a minute, what are you doing? This is wrong.’ Nobody did anything. Nobody said anything. And he didn’t say anything for 14 days,” said Burdant.
Earlier, Chief Diggs expressed that he was unaware of the lawsuit. But, Diggs decided to address the media, and WINK News investigative reporter Peter Fleischer was there.
Diggs said he felt compelled to speak on Monday due to what he referred to as “misinterpretations” surrounding the Oswald-Newhouse controversy.
Chief Diggs says that the Jensen Hughes review misinterprets FMPD policy, state law and the officers’ bill of rights. Diggs also defended his work and the work of the police department.
According to Diggs, he wanted an outside agency to conduct the investigation so that he wouldn’t be left to answer questions about what he referred to as “fairness” or “nonsense.”
So, Diggs decided to hold a press conference before he knew about the lawsuit. Why did he suddenly feel so compelled to speak?
“I don’t normally discuss internal investigations, but this has gotten to the point where it’s gotten out of control. I felt it was important for me to come here and set the record straight,” Chief Diggs said.
“This Jensen Hughes Report wants to challenge my leadership. But the bottom line is, Fort Myers and the Fort Myers Police Department is a better place today. I was brought here to clean up this city,” said Diggs.
WINK News also asked specifically about Donald Oswald during the press conference. Diggs claims Oswald was expected to follow the same policies as every other officer. And he disputed Oswald’s claims that he was ever ostracized or treated unfairly.
Chief Diggs’ contract was renewed in August of 2021. But prior to renewal, he was publicly campaigning for a new deal. The aforementioned lawsuit points to a city council session that took place on June 7. That was just three days before that controversial meeting about the cost of the new headquarters took place.
That lawsuit also claims Chief Diggs called the new police headquarters “the most important thing going on right now.” He also felt that if the project fell through, it could have hurt his reputation and threatened that new contract.
WINK News investigative reporter Peter Fleischer asked Chief Diggs, “Did the police headquarters in that project that development, the numbers had anything to do with your contract status at that time?”
“Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Absolutely,” Chief Diggs said.
Diggs says FMPD stands behind its investigation into that meeting. “We’ve never had to do anything like this. But we conduct this investigation thoroughly, fairly and impartially. And it’s very clear. It was up to that investigation determined that this case was unfounded. Period. Case closed,” said Diggs.
Diggs decide to hold this press conference on the came day that the investigation into that June 7 meeting comes up at city council.
However, the discussion of the case at Monday night’s city council meeting didn’t last very long. The City of Fort Myers hired a firm to conduct a review of the chief’s handling of the case. That firm was paid $36,024 and the city even flew the company to Fort Myers to report on its findings.
But the presentation and the question and answer session that followed only lasted for less than half an hour. This could be because the city along with the police department are now defendants in the lawsuit.
Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson says he knows how difficult of a task this firm took on. “We know it’s very difficult to police the police…know there’s a question of how we police the police…who police the police,” said Anderson.
Monday night during the council meeting, representatives from Jensen Hughes determined that Diggs made some correct and incorrect calls as the police chief. The firm ruled that Oswald’s allegations were unfound, instead of saying not sustained. Yes, there’s a difference between the two.
“Unfounded, which is basically a false allegation, versus not sustained, meaning there’s some info there but there’s not enough to reach the preponderance of the evidence,” a representative with Jensen Hughes said.
The majority of city council and the mayor himself are on record calling for this review. But now, we aren’t sure if they believe they’ve gotten their money’s worth. FortMYers City Councilman Lsiotn Bochette reminded everyone that there is a pending lawsuit. “I’d like to start this by saying there’s an open lawsuit,” Bochette said.
Bochette mentions this because city council, along with Police Chief Diggs, the department, etc. were named in the lawsuit Oswald filed.
The city’s attorney gave council the green light to speak about the case tonight. “I think you can ask questions, and if we run into something problematic, I’ll speak up.”
However, Mayor Anderson, and Councilmembers Johnny Streets and Terolyn Watson were the only ones who asked questions. And 23 minutes later, the representatives were sent home.
“Have a good flight back,” Mayor Anderson said.
Councilman Johnny Streets went on a record saying he wants the citizens’ review board to look at this case next. Besides that, what comes next?
Burdant still believes the suit will be dismissed by a federal judge. And Chief Diggs dismissed the findings saying he made no mistakes.