CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) – Former Bridgeport Police Chief John Walker, who was fired by the city in March 2022, has filed a civil lawsuit against the city.
The suit alleges age discrimination, retaliation and violation of the West Virginia Whistle-blower law.
When Walker was fired, Bridgeport Mayor Andy Lang issued a brief statement: “Chief John Walker’s employment by the city has been terminated. The city has determined that it is in the best interest of the city to take this action. Given that this is a personnel issue, the city will have no further comment.”
Walker’s lawsuit offers a few more details on what led to his termination. In an investigation prior to his firing, which was led by a local law firm, Walker was asked about three separate incidents spanning a nearly three-year period.
The most recent and most detailed of the three incidents involves a February 15, 2022 hit and run call. Walker accompanied two Bridgeport Police officers to an apartment complex where a suspected vehicle from the hit and run was believed to be. While there, Walker drew his handgun. Unconvinced of the fairness of the investigation by the local law firm, Walker’s attorney hired a former West Virginia State Trooper to do an investigation of her own. That investigation, which is attached to the lawsuit, found that it was appropriate for Walker to have drawn his sidearm.
The lawsuit mentions the two other incidents Walker was questioned about, with little additional detail: an October 2019 law enforcement response to an unnamed “matter,” and a time where an office manager purchased a frame for Walker, which he reimbursed her for.
In a letter informing Walker of his termination, a specific reason was not provided, but it did say that the firing was “not based on any single event” and was “based on the sum of all the circumstances,” the lawsuit says. The termination letter also referred to Walker’s “judgement and leadership.”
Prior to these three things being brought up, Walker had not been corrected, disciplined or investigated by the city, his lawsuit says. On the converse, Walker claims that another city department head sent “penis-shaped gummies” to a female employee and was not fired for that conduct.
In terms of the age discrimination claim, Mayor Lang and City Manager Randy Wetmore asked the then 64-year-old Walker when he planned to retire, the suit says. Walker told the pair that he did not have plans to retire, according to the lawsuit. Walker was replaced first on an interim basis and then permanently by Deputy Chief Mark Rogers, who is “substantially younger.” Walker told city officials that he believed he was being discriminated against due to his age. Making that claim further led to his firing, according to the lawsuit.
The whistle-blower claim surrounds Walker’s opposition to plans to open a cannabis dispensary in Bridgeport, a move which he believed city officials were in favor of.
The lawsuit, which can be read in full here, asks for lost wages, benefits, back pay, damages, reinstatement to the chief’s job or front pay, among other fees.