Washington, DC — The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has opened an investigation into the proposed removal of U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In accepting jurisdiction over the case, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has found that, as a matter of law, statements by Chief Chambers to both Congress and the media fall within the Whistleblower Protection Act and other free speech laws.
The investigation will determine whether Deputy Parks Service Director Donald Murphy improperly stripped Chief Chambers of law enforcement authority and put her on administrative leave within days of a Washington Post article quoting the Chief admitting staffing shortfalls in Park Police coverage of local parks and parkways. One week after taking those actions, Murphy offered to forego any charges and fully restore Chief Chambers if she would agree to a “gag order” giving Murphy control as to “contact and content” of all future communications with Congress or the media. After Chief Chambers refused the offer, Murphy proposed to terminate the Chief on the basis of her statements, as well as a handful of other allegations, most several months old, that Murphy labeled “insubordination.”
OSC acts as the guardian of the federal “merit system,” the code that ensures fair and legal treatment of civil servants. If OSC finds that Murphy acted in reprisal against legally protected disclosures, OSC can move to have Chief Chambers restored as well as bring disciplinary action against Murphy for taking “a prohibited personnel action.” In the interim, OSC can also seek a “stay” that prevents further action against Chief Chambers and can also seek to have her go back to work until the matter is resolved.
For more than a month since Chambers filed a rebuttal of Murphy’s accusations, the Department of Interior, the Park Service’s parent agency, has been struggling to decide what to do with Murphy’s allegations. OSC’s intervention may take matters out of Interior’s hands.
“It is time to end this horror show and let Chief Chambers go back to work,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Murphy acted to seize Chief Chambers’ badge and gun and place her under armed escort on the 25th anniversary of Chief Chambers swearing in as a police officer. “Chief Chambers has been under virtual house arrest for more than two months for the alleged crime of telling the truth.”
In past years, OSC has accepted only approximately 10% of the retaliation complaints it receives for investigation. Once it accepts the case, OSC then often attempts settlement. Failing settlement, if OSC verifies the facts as alleged by the employee, it can litigate before the civil service court, the Merit Systems Protection Board, to vindicate the employee and punish the retaliating manager.
Read the letter from OSC announcing an investigation into the treatment of Chief Chambers
See the legal memo outlining the illegality of the “gag orders” issued against Chief Chambers
View other relevant material in Chief Chambers’ case