A Nashville Police officer has filed a federal lawsuit against her employer, accusing the department of retaliating against her after she reported that she was raped by a fellow officer.
On May 2, 2016, Officer Monica Blake, 36, was strangled and sexually assaulted allegedly by another officer, Julian Pirtle, in her home while that officer was drunk, according to the lawsuit, filed Friday in the Middle District of Tennessee.
Blake had been romantically involved with Pirtle “off-and-on for a number of years,” up until that point, the civil complaint stated.
Blake was “terrified” by the attack and thought Pirtle was going to kill her, according to the lawsuit. She did not immediately report the attack but stopped seeing and communicating with the man, the lawsuit said.
On May 10, 2016, Pirtle showed up to McKissack Middle School, where Blake was assigned as a school resource officer, to talk to her about what happened, the civil complaint stated. Blake “secretly” recorded the conversation, which included Pirtle allegedly admitting to choking her, as well as him referring to himself as “a killer” and “The Hulk,” according to the court document. Blake then reported the attack to the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department but did not disclose that she was raped until May 23, 2016.
The next day, Pirtle was charged with aggravated domestic assault and decommissioned, a press release by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville showed. A temporary order of protection was also issued against Pirtle that day, and he was later charged with rape, online criminal court records showed.
Pirtle is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Trouble for Blake began after she reported the attack, she said. The lawsuit names the Metropolitan Government of Nashville-Davidson County and Cmdr. Janet Marlene Pardue in her role as Blake’s supervisor, as defendants.
First, Blake’s shift was changed from the morning to evening shift, and when Blake submitted a hardship request asking to be assigned to a different detail “due to the trauma she had experienced” as well as due to her childcare responsibilities, Pardue moved her shift back to mornings but required to her to work a weekend day as well, the lawsuit stated.
In addition, when Blake asked to move her start time to an hour later so she could take her kids to school, Pardue agreed, but said she would have to use her vacation time for that hour, Blake said, adding that she used up several vacation days as a result.
It was then that Blake had an inkling she was being retaliated against because she was aware that similar requests made to Pardue had been granted without issue, Blake said. The retaliation became “continuous” after that point, she said.
On June 8, 2016, Pirtle violated the order of protection by texting Blake, and Blake reported the violation to the department, documents stated. That same day, Davidson County’s Jean Crowe Advocacy Center sent an “Outstanding Officer” commendation on behalf of Blake to Pardue in recognition of “Blake’s excellent work on a particular domestic violence case,” according to the lawsuit.
Pardue then decommissioned Blake on June 15, 2016, the court document stated. Blake’s police powers were stripped, and she was required to turn in her badge, gun and radio, she said. She returned to work later that summer after completing a psyche evaluation, she added.
Then, in October 2017, Pardue initiated two disciplinary investigations into Blake for her handling of situations at McKissack Middle School, one of which she had already been exonerated for, and the other, a “truthfulness allegation” against Blake’s claim that she’d taken her utility belt off before entering her car, had been proven false by surveillance video from the middle school, according to the civil complaint.
Blake, who has been working with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department since 2005, had “received only a handful of minor disciplinary infractions” from the police department up until 2014, and between 2010 and 2013, her performance reviews averaged a 3 on a 4-point scale, with “3” ranking as “Commendable,” according to the lawsuit.
On Oct. 17, 2017, Pardue informed Blake that she would be “indefinitely restricted from any secondary employment privileges,” without giving a reason or providing a process to contest it, according to the civil complaint.
Pardue also indicated to Pirtle’s defence attorney in December 2017 that she would be “willing to testify on behalf of Pirtle by alleging that Officer Blake is a dishonest person,” according to the complaint.
In January of this year, Pirtle pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, but the rape charge against him was dropped, criminal records showed. He was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to stay away from Blake.
The plea bargain prosecutors offered Pirtle kept his name off the sex offender registry and will allow him to expunge his record if he completes three years of probation successfully, according to Blake’s lawsuit.
After Pirtle was convicted, Blake then became concerned that Pardue would “use any excuse to provoke a conflict, make false allegations against her, or even physically harm her,” according to the lawsuit.
Blake was temporarily assigned to the North Precinct after expressing her concerns to human resources. On Jan. 29, when she and her attorney showed up to the West Precinct for a settlement hearing on the two disciplinary investigations from October, she appeared unarmed and out of uniform “in order to minimize the chances of escalating the conflict with Pardue,” the complaint stated. A lieutenant who asked Blake why she was out of uniform then advised her to write a supplement to human resources detailing her concerns.
When Blake also appeared in civilian clothes for a Feb. 12 meeting, Pardue questioned why she was out of uniform and unarmed, according to the complaint.
Blake responded, “I have explained in detail why I’m not comfortable being armed at this point around you particularly,” which another lieutenant who was present constituted as a “threat” to Pardue, the complaint stated.
That lieutenant advised Pardue to “review the recording” of her interaction with Blake, and after doing so, Pardue referred the “threat” to MNPD Deputy Chief Brian Johnson, according to the lawsuit.
Later that day, Johnson reviewed the recording and “immediately decommissioned” Blake, the lawsuit said. Pardue filed an incident report the next day, characterizing the alleged threat as “assault by intimidation,” the court document stated. Blake returned to work again on April 13 after undergoing another psyche evaluation, she said.
After that, a barrage of complaints was filed against Blake.
One for a March 26 Facebook post she made stating that a community oversight board would help relations between the police and the public, and another for a 2012 video in which “Blake had done a video testimonial for the website of a magician, which she did not have permission for from the police chief, violating MNPD policy,” the lawsuit alleged.
Another complaint stated that Blake violated MNPD’s “secondary employment” policy in 2013, about five years earlier, by hosting a “Princess House” party without the department’s authorization, and another was filed for “assault” for the comment she made to Pardue on Feb. 12, according to the complaint.
Blake has been given 41 suspensions since first reporting the attack in 2017, she said. If an officer receives 30 or more suspension days in a calendar year, he or she will be terminated, under MNPD policy, the lawsuit stated.
Blake may have been retaliated against for not adhering to the “blue code,” a “cultural ethos” that “asserts that police officers must identify as police officers first, must always take up for other officers, and must never report on other officers’ misconduct,” according to the civil complaint.
But, Pardue’s discrimination toward Blake allegedly began long before she reported the attack, the lawsuit alleged. Pardue began “making life difficult” for Blake the moment she assumed command of the West Precinct in 2012, the complaint stated.
The lawsuit also accused Pardue of “typically” favouring male officers over female officers, giving one example of Pardue “accommodating the work-related requests of male officers more frequently and easily than similar requests by female officers.” The lawsuit also accused Pardue as being “personally hostile to African-Americans who raise the issue of racism in America, especially if they raise it in the context of the criminal justice system.”
The “retaliation” by Pardue has caused Blake “to suffer emotional harm as well as lost income,” the complaint alleged. Blake is still on patrol as a school resource officer, but now is assigned to a high school in the North Precinct, she said.
Blake said she filed the lawsuit after exhausting “every possible way to try and resolve the conflict.”
“But, because of the culture of the police department, at every turn, either the complaints fell on deaf ears, or inadequate investigations would occur, or they would not include me in the investigation at all,” she said.
Blake said she also hoped the lawsuit would “hold the people who have done wrong accountable for their actions,” adding that she hoped to change the culture within the police department.
“We can’t call ourselves the guardians of Nashville and not stand up in every situation,” she said.
The lawsuit requested a jury trial, nominal damages, compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by the jury, attorney’s fees, court costs and a restraining order against the department “as soon as possible.”