WRAL Investigates

Former head of Raleigh police interest group sues to get job back

Posted October 26, 2011 11:32 a.m. EDT
Updated November 14, 2011 11:56 a.m. EST

— A fired Raleigh police officer strongly denies accusations that he had extramarital sex while on duty and claims in a lawsuit that he was dismissed unfairly because of his association with a local police interest group.

Rick Armstrong, who was a police sergeant, filed suit Wednesday against Police Chief Harry Dolan and the city of Raleigh to get his job back.

Armstrong claims that Dolan targeted him because he was president of the Raleigh Police Protective Association, a professional association that represents the interests of police officers.

"While I am a party to the lawsuit, it is really about the survival of the RPPA as an effective voice for the concerns of Raleigh police officers," he said.

He pointed to the fact that two other RPPA members, including its new president, Sgt. Eric DeSimone, have been placed on administrative leave or administrative duty as proof of retaliation.

Dolan said in a statement Wednesday that it would be inappropriate for him to comment but that he was confident the City Attorney's office would review the lawsuit and take appropriate action.

City Manager Russell Allen said he hadn't seen the complaint yet and can't comment on pending litigation or personnel matters.

"The city is very careful and diligent in reviewing any disciplinary action," he said.

Armstrong, who had been with the Raleigh Police Department since 1997, resigned as president of the RPPA and was fired this summer. Allen upheld his firing on Sept. 27.

The department's Internal Affairs Unit began investigating an October 2009 police officer complaint about officers having sex with a prostitute.

The suit states that investigators deemed accusations that Armstrong had sex with a prostitute as "unfounded," but they recommended in May that he be fired for "sex on duty" with a woman identified only by the last name Flores.

Armstrong strongly denied the accusation that he had sex with the woman.

"I did befriend Ms. Flores and her children," he said. "I never engaged in any inappropriate sexual actions of any sort with Ms. Flores."

Armstrong said he met Flores through community policing, and both he and his wife reached out to her from a motivation, as Catholics, to "help those less fortunate." They took toys and clothing for her six children, invited her children to their children's birthday parties and took her children to dinner or the movies for their birthdays.

"My actions were consistent with my faith and with the practices of the Raleigh Police Department," he said. "My help to Ms. Flores and her family has now become the linchpin that the chief uses to justify my firing."

His suit says that Flores claimed to have sex with Armstrong only when confronted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who threatened that she could be deported.

"I forgive what Ms. Flores did. She did the only thing that she thought that she could do to be able to keep her family together," Armstrong said.

His wife, Nancy Armstrong, said she believes her husband has been faithful to her. His firing has meant a financial and emotional struggle for their family, but the ordeal has ultimately strengthened their marriage, she said.

"I know he didn't do anything wrong, or I wouldn't be standing here," Nancy Armstrong said.

Rick Armstrong said the effort put into the 18-month Internal Affairs investigation shows that Dolan "manufactured several more excuses to justify my firing" and disciplinary action against other RPPA members.

Internal Affairs investigators interviewed 39 people; followed Armstrong to record his movements and took pictures of him; put GPS trackers on his patrol car and personal vehicles belonging to both Armstrong and his wife; and retrieved the records for his work phone and his and his wife's personal phones, according to the lawsuit. The suit claims that investigators installed a surveillance camera on a pole near Flores' home, when she moved out of the city.

"This investigation was essentially a runaway train -- it knew no limits," Armstrong said. "These are resources that could and should have been better used to fight crime and protect Raleigh citizens." 

The 2,000-page investigation report doesn't include a transcript or recording of Flores' interview with ICE, which the suit says is the "only evidence that supposedly establishes" the accusations of sexual misconduct. Armstrong also says the report paraphrases and "mischaracterizes" statements he made during an interview with investigators.

"These tremendous resources were focused on me because I and the RPPA were an effective voice for police officers of the Raleigh Police Department, and Chief Dolan was not happy with that," Armstrong said.

The suit claims that more than 30 members of the RPPA have resigned from the group since Armstrong was fired, which he says resulted from "a fear for their careers."

Approximately 550 Raleigh police officers, or more than two-thirds of the Raleigh Police Department, are members of the RPPA.

The suits requests an injunction to prohibit the city or police department from "intimidating and discouraging" RPPA activities and requests that Armstrong be reinstated to the police force, with back pay. He is also seeking compensation for damage to his professional reputation. The suit alleges that his termination violated his rights to free speech and due process.