Sandy Springs Police officers who were demoted after raising claims of a hostile work environment are considering legal action. The city says their claims had no merit and they were demoted only for not following the proper complaint procedures.
“We have an attorney and are considering all options,” said one of the officers, Ron Momon, a former spokesperson for the Sandy Springs Police Department who was named the force’s “Supervisor of the Year” in 2013.
The city cannot comment on pending legal or personnel matters, according to a spokesperson.
Momon, who now works as a detective for the Conyers Police Department, retired from the SSPD in June after 10 years on the force. He said he retired rather than accept a demotion that he claims was in retaliation for alleging in February that other officers were harassed and ridiculed by commanding officers and Chief Kenneth DeSimone.
The other officers who made the allegations are Lawrence Joe and Glenn Kalish. Joe also retired from the force after he was demoted, while Kalish accepted the demotion from captain to sergeant and remains on the force, according to city spokesperson Sharon Kraun.
Kalish is appealing the demotion and had a grievance hearing in late July before an independent officer, according to attorney Mary Huber, who is consulting with him through the Georgia Police Benevolent Association.
Huber is also representing Joe and Momon through the PBA, an organization that provides police officers legal representation during disciplinary actions. She declined to comment on potential legal action.
“They don’t have a lot of options. They are at-will employees for the city,” Huber said. Georgia is an at-will state and Sandy Springs is an at-will city, meaning employees can be fired with no cause.
The city denies all allegations from Momon, Joe and Kalish, and said the officers were demoted because they failed to follow city policy when making complaints by going directly to Mayor Rusty Paul via an anonymous letter rather than the chain of command.
An internal review recommended firing the officers, but City Manager John McDonough chose the lighter punishment of demotion instead, Kraun said.
The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which certifies and regulates law enforcement officers, is investigating the three officers, said Executive Director Ken Vance. He declined to comment further.
The three officers allege command staff, including DeSimone, ridiculed officers and targeted others to participate in “fat camps.”
The officers also alleged command staff mocked overweight officers publicly and mandated those 40 and older to take medical tests. “They are not allowed to do that,” Momon said.
There was also pressuring and threatening of overweight officers to take voluntary physicals by command staff, Momon said, and name-calling, including calling at least one officer a “fat ass.”
Momon said the complaints of the harassment were made to him, Joe and Kalish late last year when the department conducted a manpower study. He said there were 22 officers who were willing to make official complaints.
Joe said he talked to Mayor Paul early this year about the complaints he was hearing from other officers. Joe said the timeline for the complaints began when DeSimone was hired as chief in 2013.
“I spoke with [the mayor] on the phone and called him originally to see if we could set up a meeting, but he didn’t feel comfortable doing that,” Joe said.
Joe said the mayor told him he would accept a document, a letter, outlining some of the allegations that included unethical rules violations and officers not being treated fairly. Joe said he personally delivered the letter to the mayor in early February.
The reason he did not take the letter to Chief DeSimone or City Manager John McDonough as required by city policy is because some of the complaints were against them, Joe said.
“If you have a complaint against the city manager, who do you go to?” Joe said. McDonough answers directly to the mayor and City Council, according to the city charter.
Joe said he became involved in bringing the complaints to higher-ups because lower-level officers feared losing their jobs.
“I was one of the first 10 officers to come on the department,” Joe said. “It amazes me the mayor said he has no power. I don’t know who the city manager is accountable to.”
Momon, who was also a founding officer and received the Supervisor of the Year award from the department in 2013, said he felt “betrayed” by the city.
“We were trying to bring attention to inappropriate behavior, and unfortunately the city did not want to listen,” Momon said. Momon said he was not targeted himself by any harassment.
Kraun said the mayor received an anonymous letter alleging policy violations of employees within the police department and forwarded it to McDonough.
“When City Manager John McDonough received the letter from Mayor Paul, he directed that an internal investigation be conducted by the [police department’s] Office of Professional Standards into the allegations raised,” Kraun said in a statement. “After that investigation concluded, a second investigation was opened to determine if any violation of personnel policies were violated.”
Kraun said the internal investigation found the allegations “largely baseless,” and concluded that “the authors of the letter had little to no first-hand knowledge of the complaints and made little to no effort to verify the claims.”
“In addition, the three senior-level officers [Momon, Joe and Kalish] were advised by the human resources director to put their complaints in writing, which they did not do. Instead, they chose to bypass the city’s well-established dispute resolution process that all officers are made aware of, and in fact, sign off as receiving,” Kraun said.
The process dictates complaints are to go through every level in the officer’s chain of command up to and including the city manager, she said.
“Beyond the city manager, there is an additional review step consisting of the appointment of an independent hearing officer who reviews the facts of the case and makes a recommendation to the city manager,” she said.
The officers individually met with the human resources director, who directed each to write up their concerns per policy procedures, Kraun said.
“That was not done … [and] Police Chief Ken DeSimone recused himself from the case as the internal investigation was opened. He had no oversight or involvement in its handling,” she said.
Kraun said while recommended disciplinary action against the three officers was to fire them, McDonough chose instead to demote them and put them on a 12-month probationary period with the chance to gain promotion after that year. However, Momon and Joe decided to retire.
In a May 25 letter outlining their punishment, McDonough questioned the officers’ “extremely reckless behavior” by not verifying the allegations they made to the mayor of discrimination in the department.
Joe said while he could not verify some of the complaints officers made to him, such as the withholding of approval for extra security jobs if an officer refused to take a medical test, the “fear and intimidation” in the department led to a hostile workplace.
“The officers who were direct targets were afraid to speak up and that’s why I became involved,” Joe said.
In his letter, McDonough likened the complaints to “gossip and rumor.”
“Many of the accusations in the letter pertain to events occurring several years ago and, at best, can be described as stale, while others are little more than gossip and rumor,” McDonough stated. “This strongly suggests to me that the letter was motivated by ill-will and a desire to negatively influence the mayor’s confidence in leadership within the department, rather than any legitimate purpose.”
McDonough also stated that because they were supervisors, their behavior was “very troubling.”