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Former officer claims firing was retaliation

A former Montgomery police officer claims he was suspended by borough council just before he was about to make a drug arrest involving two council members and also as retaliation by borough officials for seeking a raise.

Eric Winters filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. Middle District Court this week and alleges First Amendment retaliation, claiming council and the borough expressed hostility toward the presentation of grievances under the collective bargaining agreement by the union.

Winters was suspended May 4. His lawsuit is against the borough and its council members over his ultimate termination the following month.

Winters alleges the borough violated the “whistle blower” law after Winters witnessed alleged waste and wrongdoing.

Winters said he received complaints from people and that he was fired as a result of retaliation for actions the mayor asked him to take.

The lawsuit alleges two council members were selling or using illegal drugs, but they have not been charged. The suit also alleges drugs and evidence were seized.

Winters in his suit also accuses council President Susan Andrews of state Ethics Law violations for voting on police compensation items because her husband Jeffrey Houseknecht is a member of the department.

He also questions her voting to give money to the volunteer fire department, of which she is a member, he said.

The complaint also alleges Councilman Clayton Steward falsely stated on notarized forms that he lived in the borough. He moved out of the borough briefly due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns but has moved back, the suit said.

Winters, who was hired in 2016 as a police officer in the borough of about 1,500, was named officer-in-charge in June 2019, after the chief resigned.

He was promoted to corporal last October and two months later he requested a pay raise because he was serving in a dual capacity of corporal and officer-in-charge.

The request was denied and he filed a grievance. He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, reinstatement and back pay contending the borough officials retaliated against him, violated the state’s “whistle blower” law related to the drug investigation and wrongly discharged him.

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