A former Minneapolis police officer who had a short-lived tenure in the department which ended earlier this year is now suing the City of Minneapolis and Chief of Police Brian O’Hara for defamation and wrongful termination.
The former officer, Tyler Timberlake, claims in a 29-page lawsuit filed on Thursday that both the city and the chief defamed him, wrongfully terminated him, and that the chief engaged in illegal dissemination of personnel information protected under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MNGDPA). The lawsuit also alleges that the city violated the Whistleblower Act by firing him after Timberlake brought his concerns forward to the city earlier this year.
Timberlake was formerly a police officer in Fairfax County, Va., where he had faced a jury trial in 2022 on three misdemeanor charges of assault and battery for a use-of-force incident involving a black man that took place in 2020 just days after ripples of protests and violent uprisings spread across the country following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
Timberlake was nearly immediately placed on administrative leave from the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) in what the lawsuit describes as a rush to charge before fully investigating the matter due to the building civil unrest across the country.
Timberlake was eventually acquitted nearly two years later on all counts by a “racially and gender diverse” jury, the lawsuit says, and was subsequently reinstated to his former position as a police officer with FCPD.
The lawsuit says Timberlake subsequently applied to be an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and fully disclosed the critical incident and all related administrative actions along with the jury trial outcome of acquittal. The incident was fully investigated by MPD Officer Craig Johnson who initially handled Timberlake’s application, letters of recommendation, and other documentation. Johnson filed a summary report of the Virginia critical incident and placed it in Timberlake’s background report, which was presented to MPD hiring personnel.
On Nov. 8, 2022, Timberlake came to Minneapolis for a final in-person interview that included Chief O’Hara and several others. O’Hara would later lament that it was only his second day on the job when the Timberlake interview occurred.
Timberlake claims in the lawsuit that the Virginia critical incident was fully discussed in the interview and that he addressed Chief O’Hara directly to inquire whether the past incident would have any bearing on being hired to MPD. Timberlake maintains that the chief told him in substance that he didn’t care about the critical incident as long as Timberlake was meeting community expectations on the job.
Timberlake was offered the position by phone nearly immediately after the interview. He tendered his resignation from FCPD within two weeks after receiving a formal offer in writing from Chief O’Hara the first week of December. Timberlake relocated to Minnesota and started the police academy on Jan. 9, 2023.
Fast forward to April 2023, when a story was published by the Minnesota Reformer dredging up Timberlake’s critical incident from Virginia. Activists and local media quickly glommed onto the story and calls began for Timberlake to be fired, although he was still in training at that point.
Chief O’Hara provided a statement to Deena Winter who wrote the article for the Minnesota Reformer indicating that he didn’t know about Timberlake’s past incident and was “extremely concerned” and vowed a full investigation into MPD’s hiring process.
Timberlake’s lawsuit alleges that O’Hara told a series of lies in “panicked efforts to evade responsibility” for Timberlake’s hiring. The lawsuit alleges that O’Hara’s lies implied that he didn’t know about the prior critical incident, that Timberlake concealed the critical incident, that Winter’s portrayed version of the incident was correct (the lawsuit says it wasn’t), and that Timberlake didn’t meet MPD’s hiring standards (the lawsuit says he did).
The lawsuit alleges that Chief O’Hara began to change his story after his statements about what he knew or didn’t know were scrutinized. O’Hara eventually crafted a statement saying that he merely didn’t know about the existence of video of the Virginia use-of-force incident. The lawsuit also claims that O’Hara made a series of public statements disclosing personnel information about Timberlake that is deemed private under MNGDPA.
Timberlake was eventually relieved of his position with MPD on July 5.
On July 6, Crime Watch Minneapolis obtained and posted copies of emails that showed that Timberlake had disclosed the critical incident in email communications with city personnel and that Chief O’Hara had been part of the interview panel. Also posted was a copy of an email dated May 15, 2023 (whistleblower email), from Timberlake to Mayor Jacob Frey, Chief O’Hara, and Chief of Human Resources Nikki Odom notifying them that Chief O’Hara had defamed him and had made statements which disclosed private personnel information in violation of Minnesota statute.
1/ Have a seat and read to the end.
BREAKING/EXCLUSIVE – The @MinneapolisPD has "separated" employment with recently hired police officer Tyler Timberlake who came to MN from Fairfax VA in January and was placed in training for eventual deployment as an officer.
— CrimeWatchMpls (@CrimeWatchMpls) July 6, 2023
The head of the Minneapolis police union even weighed in on O’Hara’s comments about Timberlake after he was fired and indicated O’Hara’s comments were dishonest. Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Sgt. Sherral Schmidt said, “The hiring of Timberlake was not an issue until an April 19 news article created a politically charged narrative of his hiring, which grew in intensity,” and led to the chief’s attempts to cover his tracks.
Following Timberlake’s email notification to the city, the lawsuit alleges that the city subsequently defamed Timberlake by issuing a letter accusing Timberlake of misconduct.
The lawsuit details two claims of defamation, one count of wrongful termination, one count of violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, and violation of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. The lawsuit asks for a judgement of compensation of at least $250,000 in damages for defamation, emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, and economic loss caused by the city’s and O’Hara’s actions. Timberlake claims he is unable to obtain employment due to the publicity surrounding his termination from MPD.
The lawsuit also asks for legal fees, as well as back pay, employment reinstatement, expungement of adverse employment records, and compensatory damages.
Read the lawsuit:
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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.