NEWS

Retired Austin officer fired by Texas police union may sue former employer

May 31, 2012 | In The News, Sean Breen

By Patrick George

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Former Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield is seeking depositions for a possible lawsuit against his ex-employer, the largest statewide police union in Texas, which fired him last year.

Sheffield, who was fired in July from his job as a training coordinator and field service representative for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, has filed a petition in Travis County state District Court seeking information about allegations of criminal acts he said the union made against him.

The petition said Sheffield is seeking documents and statements from union Executive Director John Burpo, board President Todd Harrison and others.

“We have reason to believe the board members of CLEAT circulated defamatory comments and wrongfully accused Mr. Sheffield of committing a crime,” said Sheffield’s attorney, Austin lawyer Sean E. Breen.

John Curtis, CLEAT’s corporate counsel, said the union is considering whether to pursue criminal charges against Sheffield. CLEAT provides legal representation, lobbying and other support services for Texas’ law enforcement officers.

“He took and destroyed work product we strongly believe belonged to this organization,” Curtis said, saying officials there believe Sheffield violated the state’s computer crime laws.

Breen said that Sheffield was specifically accused of deleting information from a CLEAT computer and that the accusations are false. He said that multiple agencies — including federal authorities and district attorneys in Travis and Williamson counties — did not bring charges against Sheffield.

“In law enforcement, reputation is everything,” Breen said. “When someone is accused of a crime, it cuts to the very heart of their integrity as a police officer.

Law enforcement officials discussed the matter last year, but CLEAT never formally asked the Travis County district attorney’s office to investigate the claims, Assistant District Attorney Gail Van Winkle said.

Sheffield served as president of the Austin Police Association union from 1998 until 2006. After retiring from the Police Department, he was employed by CLEAT until last year.

Breen said Sheffield has not decided whether to sue CLEAT and is pursuing a federal claim through the National Labor Relations Board to get his job back.

Curtis said CLEAT is looking into asking a federal judge to stop the possible lawsuit until the labor claim is resolved.

“This is just another legal shenanigan he’s pulling,” Curtis said. “The other shoe hasn’t fallen yet. It’s going to be a bumpy road.”

According to a CLEAT memo from July, Sheffield was fired for “interfering with the (Austin Police Association)” and for attempting to publicly discredit the statewide union.

Sheffield said he believes he was fired after he raised concerns about an arrangement between CLEAT and the Austin Police Association. Under that arrangement, Harrison, an Austin Police Department sergeant, worked for CLEAT full time funded by officers’ earned sick time while CLEAT gave the Austin Police Association $50,000. That was not mentioned in Sheffield’s termination memo, which he provided.

After the American-Statesman reported on the agreement, CLEAT began reimbursing the City of Austin for Harrison’s salary and benefits. He is currently vice president of the Austin Police Association.

Contact Patrick George at 
445-3548

CORRECTION: This story originally stated Mike Sheffield had been cleared of wrongdoing. Charges have not been brought against him.

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