A former mechanic in the Killeen Fleet Services Division is suing the city under the Texas Whistleblower Act.
John Acker was terminated 70 days after he testified to police about the culture of personal use and pilfering in the city’s motor pool.
Acker’s lawsuit, filed Friday in Bell County district court, alleges that he was fired by Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin after implicating one of Baldwin’s police sergeants in the alleged misconduct.
According to state law, firing an employee within 90 days of giving a report on illegal actions is grounds for a lawsuit because it presumes that the report led to the termination.
The city declined to comment on the lawsuit and said it has not offered Acker a settlement.
Acker and former city finance director Barbara Gonzales were fired Dec. 12, after a two-month investigation of the city’s Fleet Services Division.
On the same day, fleet services director Kim Randall retired and fleet services technician David Riddle resigned.
Fleet services is responsible for maintaining all city-owned vehicles.
In December, the city said the investigation revealed, “mismanagement and misappropriation of city time and equipment.”
Twenty-four employees, including Acker, were interviewed by KPD throughout the investigation, according to court documents.
Acker’s termination letter, which was signed by Baldwin, stated he was fired for helping an employee remove a city-owned hydraulic cylinder rack and stealing scrap metal and oil.
During the investigation, Acker told police that using the used city-owned property on personal vehicles was commonplace for mechanics and supervisors, all of whom used parts and materials for personal use.
He also told police that a member of KPD used the fleet services facility for repairs to a personal boat.
“Virtually everyone has engaged in this type of activity,” the file stated.
On Aug. 22, Killeen police Sgt. Michael Watts left his personal boat motor at the shop for two days, while it received repairs at the city’s expense, according to the lawsuit.
The former mechanic said he was targeted by the police department for implicating one of its own.
“The question is why was John Acker fired and not the others who were involved,” Acker’s attorney, Bill Aleshire, said.
“He told the police about a misdeed by police officers. That’s why the police chief fired him.”
Aleshire said his client told city officials he was willing to take suspension and probation if the city reinstated him.
“He just wants his job back,” Aleshire said. “(The city) has indicated that they don’t have any interest in reinstating him.”
Both Acker and Gonzales have appealed their terminations and their appeal hearings have been scheduled for April 2 and April 24, respectively.