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Court: Department's retaliatory tactic could have put cop’s life in danger

A former police officer’s lawsuit can go to trial on claims that Douglas County authorities retaliated against him for complaining that his fellow officers were engaged in racial profiling, the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled Monday.

One potentially dangerous tactic used against Derrick Bailey was a “be-on-the-lookout” — or BOLO — advisory that warned local authorities to “act accordingly” because Bailey was a “loose cannon” and a “danger” to any Douglas County law enforcement officer, the court said.

In a strongly worded ruling, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Bailey apparently was targeted because he “had the temerity to speak up about alleged abuses.”

RBailey had done nothing to merit the BOLO, the court said. He had broken no laws, made no threats, had not been acting suspiciously and was not mentally unstable.

All he’d done was file a written complaint to the chief of the Douglasville Police Department, reporting that fellow officers and county deputies were racially profiling citizens and committing other constitutional violations, the ruling said.

Bailey filed the complaints in April 2011. In November 2012, with no write-ups or reprimands, he was terminated from the force. When Bailey appealed his termination in February 2013, Douglas Sheriff’s Maj. Tommy Wheeler allegedly issued the BOLO.

Bailey, who had 17 years in law enforcement, filed his federal lawsuit a month later. He now represents himself as his own attorney. He could not be reached for comment.

Wheeler is now retired. His lawyers did not return a phone call or emails seeking comment.

Judge Robin Rosenbaum, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, said the BOLO had the potential to endanger Bailey’s life.

It gave “all Douglas County law-enforcement officers a reasonable basis for using force — including deadly force — against Bailey if they reasonably misconstrued a single move Bailey made — such as reaching into his pocket when confronted by law enforcement officers,” Rosenbaum wrote.

Rosenbaum noted that less than a week before Wheeler posted the BOLO, former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner made national news by waging a deadly revenge attack against the Los Angeles Police Department for his firing. Wheeler’s BOLO “raised the specter that Douglas County might have its own Dorner in the form of Bailey and served to only amplify the urgency of the BOLO’s warning,” the judge wrote.

A reasonable inference can be made that the BOLO was issued to retaliate against Bailey, Rosenbaum wrote.

“Law enforcement officers are sworn to protect and defend the rights of others,” she said. “It is completely antithetical to those sworn duties for a law enforcement officer to use his position to harness the power of an entire county’s law enforcement force to teach a lesson to – and potentially very seriously endanger – someone who had the temerity to speak up about alleged abuses.”

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