Lawsuit: McAllister asked former Bluffton police officer to conceal affair

Top Bluffton officials accused of quashing claims by former Lt. Bryan Norberg

cconley@islandpacket.comJuly 2, 2013 

Former Bluffton police chief David McAllister asked a subordinate to help conceal an affair -- then retaliated when he believed the subordinate discussed the chief's behavior with another officer, a lawsuit filed in Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas contends.

The plaintiff, former Lt. Bryan Norberg, also claims Bluffton's town manager and town attorney quashed a investigation into the incident and pressured Norberg to lie about what happened, according to the suit.

Norberg says in the lawsuit, filed June 24, that he believed he would lose his job if he did not lie and cover for his boss.

"(The) Plaintiff feared that ... he would lose his job if he ever refused to lie for the chief, cover for the chief, or follow the chief's orders, even if such orders were unethical or illegal," the suit says.

Norberg was fired in May, after an internal investigation into another matter -- an officer's claim that he was pushed by McAllister during a dispute -- concluded that Norberg was not telling the truth when he denied being told about the alleged push.

Norberg's lawsuit seeks back pay, future lost wages and benefits, and damages stemming from emotional harm, mental anguish and humiliation, among other things. It asks for a jury trial.

The town of Bluffton is the sole defendant. Norberg is represented by Nancy Bloodgood of Charleston's Foster Law Firm.

Attempts Tuesday to reach McAllister, who left the department in August for a job with a private security company in Kennesaw, Ga., were unsuccessful. McAllister's six-year tenure as Bluffton's police chief was checkered with multiple lawsuits filed against the town and the department, several of which the town has settled.

THE ALLEGATIONS

Norberg's trouble began in November 2010 when McAllister asked him to conceal an affair the chief was having with the head of a local animal rescue organization, according to the suit.

Soon after, the suit says, McAllister accused Norberg of exposing the affair to another high-ranking officer.

"McAllister then shunned (Norberg) for over three months and often told (Norberg) that (he) had 'betrayed his trust' by telling the truth ... and needed to 'try harder' to remedy the situation," the suit says.

Norberg also claims that McAllister allowed his girlfriend to keep stray dogs in the town's holding cells overnight and to use town property in her office at the animal rescue group's headquarters.

Norberg says he reported his concerns to the town attorney who, according to the suit, "provided no assistance" and was dismissive of the allegations.

Jesse Hershey, the town's human resources manager, referred Norberg to town manager Anthony Barrett, the suit said.

After hearing the allegations in March 2011, Barrett responded by saying, "What do you want me to do about it," the lawsuit says. He then promised to look into the claims, the suit says.

A week later, around April 1, 2011, Norberg said he met with Barrett and McAllister. According to the suit, Barrett told Norberg he "misunderstood what was going on" and gave Norberg a written warning for going outside the chain of command.

At that meeting, Norberg also claims he was forced to sign a pre-typed agreement that included "false statements" in order to keep his job.

"(The) plaintiff understood from the words and actions of (Bluffton's) town manager that a condition of his continued employment was to remain silent regarding any knowledge of ... past or current illegal practices and wrongful acts, as well as any illegal practices and wrongful acts committed by Chief McAllister in the future," the filing says.

Barrett said he had not yet received a copy of the suit. However, he said Norberg has admitted lying to numerous town staff about the pushing incident and that the town had no choice but to fire him.

"The Town examined all possibilities for retaining Mr. Norberg, but, in the police department, veracity is crucial and his dismissal was deemed necessary," Barrett said in an email Tuesday.

Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said she had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. She planned to meet with Barrett Tuesday afternoon to discuss the issue.

THE AFTERMATH

A week after signing the document Barrett gave him, Norberg says another officer, in a separate incident, told him that McAllister had pushed him during a dispute.

Norberg says he later learned the chief denied that allegation.

The suit says Norberg became concerned he would be punished for reporting the alleged shoving.

He also worried about disclosing information to the town's attorney, who he believed was untrustworthy and had previously disclosed supposedly confidential communications, the suit said.

Norberg says he worried he would be fired for going outside the chain of command if he reported the pushing allegations to senior town officials.

On May 7, 2013, Norberg was fired for lying to the town attorney during an internal investigation into the pushing dispute. The suit says Norberg denied that the pushed employee called him about the incident because he believed he would be fired if he failed to cover for the chief.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

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