Hostler wins whistleblower suit against Philly police commander, city

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Joel Allen got his love of horses from his late father, an officer with the Philadelphia Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit in the 1970s and 80s.

“My dad always wanted to be a cowboy or a cop,” said Allen, 56. “So he became both.”

Love for his father and for horses led Allen, himself a former hostler with the Mounted Unit, to file a formal complaint with his commanding officer in 2014 about what he considered a lack of exercise some horses were receiving.

After that, the commanding officer, Lt. Daniel McCann, accused him of vandalism and likened him to infamous murderers in a formal letter to the police commissioner, Allen said.

A year later, Allen was fired.

“He was passionate about horses, said Allen’s attorney, Gerald R. Clarke, and it led to his demise.”

Last week, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Erdos ruled in favor of Allen in a whistleblower lawsuit he filed against the city and McCann  who, according to the lawsuit, referred to the hostlers as “s— pickers.” 

“The fact that an ordinary s— picker can bring his lieutenant before a court of law, I’m grateful for this country,” Allen said Tuesday. “If this was Russia, I’d be fertilizer.”

In 1986, Allen became a hostler with the mounted unit, a civilian job cleaning, feeding, and caring for the department’s horses, until he was forced to transfer due to downsizing in 1996. The Mounted Unit disbanded in 2004 and reformed in 2011. Two years later, Allen was rehired.

Allen said that the unit then had more horses than officers available to ride them, and that some horses did not get enough exercise. Some were only ridden for two hours a day and others not at all, which can create problems, he said.

“It’s just like little kids who don’t get out, they get cabin fever,” Allen said. “But when you get a horse that’s 2,000 pounds, some of them get depressed and others get aggressive.”

Allen said he voiced his concerns to his supervisors before filing a formal complaint with McCann in December 2014. From that point until he was fired, he said, “it was a whole year of hell in there for me.”

In official paperwork, McCann accused Allen of threatening other employees, making false allegations, and vandalizing the stables, among other things. He also called Allen’s mental health into question – twice.

After his first request for a mental health evaluation for Allen was denied, McCann wrote a memorandum to then-Commissioner Charles Ramsey seeking the evaluation.

“[P]ersonnel assigned to the unit have brought to my attention comparisons of Civ Allen (as described in the media) to the subjects involved in the recent Virginia Reporter and Oregon College shooting incidents; ‘reputation for being difficult to work with,’ ‘an unhappy man,’ ‘makes false accusations,’ ‘outraged,’ ‘many incidents of anger coming to the fore,’ ‘bitter,’ ‘strong hostilities,’ ” McCann wrote to Ramsey. “These descriptors match Civ Allen.”

Allen filed his whistleblower suit against the city and McCann in June 2015.

After a five-day civil bench trial , Judge Erdos found in favor of Allen and against the city and McCann on April 7. A hearing on monetary damages has not yet been scheduled.

 “We’re hopeful that Joel is going to get a fair compensation to take into account that he was at a job he loved and hoped to be until he retired,” Clarke said.  

McCann, who was quoted on the Police Department’s blog as saying he intended to ride his job as head of the Mounted Unit “into the sunset,” now works in the departments Personnel Unit, a police spokesman said. Authorities wont say when McCann was transferred, but news accounts list him as head of the Mounted Unit as recently as May 2016.

McCann did not return requests for comment. A Police Department spokesman and a representative from the City Solicitor’s Office both declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Clarke said part of the city’s defense was that Allen had an ax to grind with the unit and the department because he felt that his sister, Amy Allen, a onetime Mounted Unit cop who was convicted of fraud in 2003, was wronged.

But Allen said that’s not why he spoke up.

“I was just trying to get my reputation back,” he said.

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