Ex-JoCo police chief took Black employee’s personal records home, intimidated him: lawsuit

City of Spring Hill
·4 min read

A federal civil lawsuit filed by a former Spring Hill city worker accuses officials of maintaining a racially hostile work environment, including allegations that former Police Chief Richard Mann illegally took the employee’s personnel records home and once berated him for listening to rap music.

Antwone Smoot, a former information technology specialist, says in the lawsuit that the city treated him unfairly because he is Black and later retaliated against him for speaking up. The lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District of Kansas, seeks at least $300,000 in damages.

During a brief phone interview Tuesday night, Charles Dunlay, the city attorney for Spring Hill, said the city does not comment on pending litigation. He also declined to comment on other questions raised by The Star, including why Mann, the former chief, was fired in 2018.

Phillip Strozier, a Kansas City attorney representing Smoot, said the workplace conditions ultimately forced his client to resign from his job in March, after spending roughly nine years with the city. Beyond the allegations against the former chief, Strozier said the city failed to protect Smoot from unequal treatment and allowed him to remain a “toxic” workplace.

“At a certain point, someone can only take so much,” Strozier said, adding: “He experienced a very tumultuous tenure there and was simply not treated fairly despite his exemplary record. … That’s what the case is really about.”

The lawsuit accuses Mann of approaching Smoot one day in a computer server room, and closing the door behind them. The two were unacquainted at the time, the lawsuit says, and the ex-chief allegedly took that first meeting to tell Smoot he took issue with the rap music Smoot played in his car.

Smoot told Mann he was being intimidating and offensive, and directed Mann to bring any complaints to Smoot’s supervisor, the lawsuit says. It also says Smoot filed a complaint with his boss.

As a condition of employment, the lawsuit says, Smoot was instructed to complete a background check through the Kansas Criminal Justice Information System, a secure public safety communications network, for access to the police department’s building.

After completing the paperwork, the lawsuit says Smoot was approached by Mann while in a shared office space. Mann then discussed the results of the background check in an open office environment where coworkers could potentially overhear, the lawsuit says.

The background check was never officially completed, even though Smoot was told that it had been, according to the lawsuit. Because of that, the lawsuit says Smoot was required to sign in and out of the police station as he came and went.

On his visits to the police station, Smoot says someone was assigned to “shadow” him everywhere he went in the building, a condition not applied to other employees who had completed the background check. Referenced in court papers is one example where a person sat and watched Smoot as Smoot was working in a conference room.

The paperwork Smoot filed contained confidential personal information. The lawsuit alleges those documents were later found in Mann’s personal residence, after Mann had been placed on administrative leave, by the former chief’s then-wife. She allegedly called Spring Hill officials to report finding copies of Smoot’s paperwork along with “other confidential information.”

Spring Hill later informed Smoot that his personal information had been breached, the lawsuit says. He was allegedly told “that nothing could be done” other than an offer for the city to pay for credit monitoring services.

“Over the next several months, (Smoot) was living in fear of being targeted personally and financially due to his intimate information being unlawfully possessed in the home of Police Chief Richard Mann,” the document says.

Attempts to reach Mann were unsuccessful. Mann was not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Mann, who began as the city’s police chief in 2011, was fired by the city in 2018. The sudden departure spurred questions from members of the community — a town of around 7,000 people, which lies between Johnson and Miami counties — that were never answered.

City officials have declined to say anything substantial about the chief’s firing other than calling it a personnel matter.

In January 2020, Mann was hired from a different position in Spring Hill government to work as the city administrator of Victor, Colorado, a small mountain town with a population of about 450 people near Pike’s Peak, reported The Pikes Peak Courier, an area newspaper.

In November 2021, Smoot filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, the federal agency that investigates claims of workplace discrimination, which issued a right-to sue notice. The lawsuit alleges after that complaint was filed, Acting City Administrator Pat Burton “arbitrarily” changed Smoot’s work hours and told him he was not allowed to work overtime.

The lawsuit also says the city’s public works director informed coworkers that they should not communicate with Smoot “in any manner” after the complaint was made.