A judge holds the decision over whether a lawsuit leveled against the Town of Bethlehem and its police chief will be shown to a jury or thrown out.
The case has been making its way through a U.S. District Court since being filed in late 2010 by Christopher Hughes, a Bethlehem police officer who was recently fired from his job after being convicted of a felony. In mid July, after hundreds of pages of depositions, arguments, motions and counter-motions were collected, the town’s attorneys have filed a motion of summary judgment arguing Hughes’s claims are without merit. It is not known when Judge Gary Sharpe might hand down a decision but if he does not dismiss the case, the next step in the process would be a jury trial.
“All I can say is I think the case raises factual issues a jury should decide,” said Michael Sussman, Hughes’ attorney. “It comes down to whether what Mr. Hughes did was constitutionally protected and whether as a result of what Mr. Hughes did, was he punished?”
In the lawsuit, Hughes claims he faced a hostile work environment and retaliatory action for “expressing protected speech.” The ex-officer is best known for going public in 2009 with allegations Police Chief Louis Corsi uttered a racial slur. His claims touched off an internal town investigation that ended in the discovery of the taped conversation and a 10-day suspension for the police chief.
Testimony raises questions
This past February, nine people were deposed for the lawsuit, and in their testimonies departmental infighting and allegations of misconduct swept under the rug are discussed. In hundreds of pages of sworn testimony, Corsi, members of the police department, former supervisor Jack Cunningham and Hughes himself speak to the former officer’s troubled history with the department — and the office’s internal issues — at length.