Washington, DC — U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers today filed a complaint before a federal civil service judge seeking immediate reinstatement to her job, according to a complaint released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
On December 5, 2003, National Park Service Deputy Director Don Murphy placed Chief Chambers on paid administrative leave shortly after The Washington Post published an interview with the Chief in which she confirmed concerns about budget and staffing shortfalls. At that time, Chief Chambers was stripped of her badge, sidearm and law enforcement credentials, ordered not to grant interviews and given an armed escort out of the Interior building.
In an effort to quell the resulting furor, Murphy met with Chief Chambers on December 12 and offered to forego any effort to fire her if she would agree to a gag order allowing him prior approval of the content and contact of any media interviews or congressional conversations. On December 18, less than one week after Chief Chambers rejected the agreement, Murphy proposed to terminate her, but the Department of Interior (the parent agency over the Park Service) still has not acted on that proposal.
“This farce has gone on long enough; it is time for Chief Chambers to go back to work,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization will be part of the legal team headed by Peter Noone of the Belmont Massachusetts firm of Avery, Dooley, Post & Avery. “The reason the Department of Interior has not acted is that the only charges they could find to lodge against Chief Chambers don’t pass the laugh test.”
Today’s filing before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) triggers an evidentiary hearing before an administrative judge. Prior to that hearing Chief Chambers’ lawyers will have full discovery rights to secure internal documents and question top Interior officials under oath. MSPB can order Chief Chambers returned to work and, if it finds illegal personnel practices, can order an investigation leading to discipline of responsible officials.
MSPB can also order that Chief Chambers be immediately taken off administrative leave pending the outcome of the hearing and appeals. Not only does Chief Chambers vigorously contest the basis for any proposed termination but her lawyers also contend that actions taken to prevent her from communicating with Congress or the media violate several federal laws and the First Amendment.
Back in February, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel opened an investigation into the case and in April requested that Interior stay further adverse actions against Chief Chambers for 45 days while it concluded its investigation. After the 45 days had passed, it became apparent that the Special Counsel, Scott Bloch, a recent Bush appointee, would not act in a timely manner. At that point, Chief Chambers decided to exercise her own rights to pursue the matter directly. Since OSC has no direct power to remedy the situation and must itself go to the MSPB, by filing herself, Chief Chambers will not need to depend on OSC to pursue her case.
“For seven months, Chief Chambers has been kept in limbo without the ability to fight back,” Ruch added, noting that Chief Chambers was required to wait at least 120 days after OSC’s first involvement before filing directly with MSPB. “Now the fight has begun.”
View all the legal developments in Chief Chambers’ case