Nashville police department retaliated against female officer for reporting sexual assault, lawsuit alleges

A Nashville police officer is taking a stand after what she regards as years of discrimination and retaliation from within the police department. (Photo: Courtesy of Monica Blake via tennessean.com)
A Nashville police officer is taking a stand after what she regards as years of discrimination and retaliation from within the police department. (Photo: Courtesy of Monica Blake via tennessean.com)

A police officer in Nashville, Tenn., has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Metropolitan Nashville government and a Metropolitan Nashville Police Department commander following a series of conflicts that include a 2016 sexual assault allegation against a fellow officer.

Monica Blake, an African-American woman who has served in the police department since 2005, says that she has been the target of both blatant and subtle acts retaliation based on several complaints she has filed against the department, and that the department has discriminated against her for years based on race and gender. These allegations are summed up in a lengthy complaint that the officer’s attorney, Kyle Mothershead, shared with Yahoo Lifestyle.

One of the first documented incidents of discrimination came in the summer of 2014, according to the complaint, when Blake and seven colleagues — six of them black, one white — were working with a community program for kids, GREAT Camps. After the work was done for the day and the children were gone, the officers decided to spend “down time” playing the game Cards Against Humanity.

When Cmdr. Janet Pardue — the defendant in the complaint and a police officer since 1989 — was made aware of the game, she launched a disciplinary investigation, the complaint says. Blake’s six black peers were given suspensions, but Blake received the harshest penalty: a three-day suspension. Allegedly, the white officer involved was not disciplined at all.

Following the incident, the officers were banned from working with the GREAT Camps program, a move Blake interpreted as a “silent” punishment. The complaint alleges that the incident was a catalyst for “unfair race discrimination.” In April 2015, the Nashville chapter of the Black Peace Officers Association intervened on behalf of the Card Game 8 — as the group was called by the police department — to file an official complaint with the department.

“Throughout 2015 and 2016, Commander Pardue retaliated against Officer Blake for the ‘Card Game 8’ HR complaint by making life more difficult for her, primarily by denying discretionary work-related requests that were routinely granted to male officers,” the complaint says. In 2016, the complaint was resolved and the officers were again eligible to participate in the camp program.

The situation intensified in spring of 2016, when Blake alleges that she was strangled and sexually assaulted by a department officer she had been romantically involved with. Blake told Yahoo Lifestyle that she secretly recorded the officer admitting to the strangling after he showed up at her workplace unannounced, according to the complaint. “He called himself a killer and referred to himself as the Hulk,” she says. “He told me he experienced so much rage, but he didn’t mean to hurt me like he did.” 

She then took her complaint to the department’s domestic violence officer, who arrested the man on an aggravated assault charge. By May 2016, Blake reported that she had also been sexually assaulted. The case ultimately resulted in Blake receiving an order of protection against her attacker — which he violated. Eventually, the rape charge was dropped and the defendant entered a plea deal for judicial diversion, according to the complaint.

Blake told Yahoo Lifestyle that officers, including Pardue, who were willing to testify to defend her attacker helped the case end up the way it did — even though the defendant failed a polygraph test about the assault, she says. Blake says the incident gave Pardue even more reason to target her, even decommissioning her for a time in 2016. The complaint also points to two disciplinary investigations Pardue began against Blake in 2017 about an unrelated case Blake had been assigned to.

Finally, things came to a head when Blake took to Facebook in March 2018 to voice her support for an activist group, Community Oversight Now, whose goal is to hold police officers accountable for their actions. “They’re a neutral entity, but the police department — especially the fraternal order of police — is claiming they don’t want to be policed by civilians,” Blake says.

“As a result of my support, the police department has tried to impose sanctions on me by way of numerous suspension days,” Blake told Yahoo Lifestyle, saying the punishment was a violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. She says a private Facebook group even emerged to lambaste her for her stance. She says the group branded her as a traitor and said she should have known about “the blue line, we all stick together.”

Blake and her attorney, Mothershead, even addressed the phenomenon — which they called the Blue Code — in their complaint. “There exists in American law enforcement culture generally, and at the Metro Nashville Police Department (‘MNPD’) in particular, a cultural ethos known as the ‘Blue Code’
which 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,” the complaint says.

Blake describes the culture of the Nashville police department as increasingly oppressive as officers continued to retaliate each time she attempted to defend herself. She says her superiors attempted to silence her and, in some cases, refused to even meet with her. She says officers manipulated internal paperwork about crucial incidents and tainted her reputation with accusations that she was “untruthful and unreliable.”

In the meantime, she said, other officers who have committed transgressions — such as ditching work to hang out at an officer’s home and arresting a “completely sober” person for a DUI — have been barely disciplined,  or not disciplined at all, by the department. She says race and gender play a role in the divide.

Blake chalks it all up to the price she has been made to pay for standing by her convictions. “One thing I have consistently said and that I think is important for other [sexual assault] survivors to hear, as all of these things come out, is that it’s simultaneously empowering but also devastating. At this moment, I believe I am blooming from the wounds where I once bled,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle. She says she wants survivors to know they do have a voice, and there is freedom in having a voice, even though people will try to silence it.

When contacted, Nashville police department referred Yahoo Lifestyle to the Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County for comment, but Yahoo Lifestyle has yet to receive a response.

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