Marco police records clerk, code employee resign after lawsuit settlement talks stall
This is a six-month review of the most-read crime stories in Collier County on naplesnews.com from March 2019 to August 2019. Vonna Keomanyvong, email@example.com; 239-213-5380
Marco Island's police records clerk submitted her letter of resignation Friday after failing to reach a settlement agreement in her discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the city.
Heather Comparini had accused the police department and former Police Chief Al Schettino of scapegoating her in the leak of information related to a battery investigation against former City Manager Lee Niblock, nearly leading to her termination last year.
The police department has also yet to close out the leak investigation, which it had previously cited as an active investigation as far back as February 2018.
"I have had the threat of my termination hanging over my head, depending on the results of the ongoing 'leak' investigation," Comparini wrote. "Most important, this allegation and continued investigation have very publicly called my character, honesty and integrity into question. Those values are ones that I am not willing to compromise under any circumstances."
James Deatherage, an assistant in the Code Enforcement Department who signed an affidavit corroborating Comparini's account, also tendered his resignation in solidarity.
Deatherage wrote he could not work "for an institution that has allowed employees to be openly treated in this fashion without any effort to rectify the situation."
His letter also contradicted the city's claims regarding the duration of its investigation for the false accusation that nearly ended Comparini's employment.
"For the past 20 months, I have witnessed a coworker be subjected to continued harassment and intimidation stemming from a false allegation of a breach of confidentiality by MIPD management," Deatherage wrote. "That employee was ultimately threatened with termination pending the outcome of an investigation that was only recently commenced. In addition, the false allegations against my coworker were publicly aired in direct violation of Marco Island Human Resources policies. Yet no one was ever held accountable for these actions."
The police department would not confirm whether the internal affairs investigation began after Schettino's departure and the hiring of City Manager Mike McNees.
Capt. Dave Baer had wrote in an April 16 email to the "Naples Daily News" that he was advised the investigation was still active at that time.
The City Council held a special session Thursday afternoon to go into closed session to discuss a settlement and litigation strategy in the case before having to respond to the court Friday.
Comparini's legal counsel had initially asked the city for $30,000 before increasing the demand to $40,000 after the lawsuit was filed. She also requested the city publicly clear her name of wrongdoing.
The city made an offer of $10,000, which was rejected, before holding the closed-session.
Schettino had asserted Comparini was the person who disseminated information because she was seen reading a confidential document that was erroneously sent to a public printer. The document included information about Niblock's case, which found its way to City Councilor Larry Honig.
After Honig asked City Attorney Alan Gabriel about the information, Gabriel contacted Schettino, who notated his comments and his assertion that Comparini was the source of the leak.
Schettino later emailed the city’s labor attorney requesting termination paperwork be drawn up before Comparini was formally accused in a meeting attended by police command staff and Human Resources Manager Leslie Sanford.
In the meeting, Comparini said she denied the accusations but was met with greater push-back from Schettino, who continued to assert she was guilty.
To prove her innocence, Comparini uncovered a text message from then-Sgt. Neil Giansanti, which contained the information about Niblock investigation. Deatherage confirmed Comparini's account that Giansanti was also at the printer at the time the document was printed.
None of the police officers, all of whom were male, involved in the printing of the document or present at the time of the incident were subject to the same scrutiny.
Gabriel previously told the "Daily News" that he had never received the a copy of the text message in question from Honig.
Honig also previously denied ever receiving the message from Comparini.
Despite her innocence, Comparini wrote, actions taken by Schettino led to physical and mental ailments such as extreme stress, trouble sleeping, nightmares and dramatic weight loss.
This included deactivating her key card and having other employees train for her position.
Before Comparini filed the lawsuit, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that contained the same allegations. Although an investigator was unable to substantiate her claims, the decision was not an indication that no wrongdoing took place.
Included was an accusation of Schettino being "highly resistant to having women under his command." The department, which has historically had few women, went months under Schettino's command without a female officer after Karie Petit resigned.
Comparini cited the hiring of young men with little or no experience over a longtime female officer out of Indiana during one of the hiring rounds. The department had been operating with one female officer, Alejandra Moreno, before new Police Chief Tracy Frazzano was hired.