Cincinnati Chief Sues Over Promotion

The City of Cincinnati is facing a lawsuit by one of its district chiefs who claims he was passed over for promotion twice and labeled a troublemaker because he reported possible wrongdoing by other chiefs.

District Chief Raffel Prophett filed suit last week in US District Court naming City Manager Harry Black individually and in his capacity as city manager. The suit alleges abuse of power, retaliation, violation of the 1st Amendment, and due process violations (both procedural and substantive).

Chief Prophett also served as a Lt. Colonel and Deputy Director of Plans and Civilian/Military Affairs for the U.S. Third Army. According to the complaint: “He was deployed overseas in support of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” Prophett claims Black labeled him as a trouble-maker and blocked his promotion to Assistant Chief after he brought forth two complaints against other chiefs.

According to the complaint:

  • In February 2015, Plaintiff wrote Defendant Black requesting that he investigate a matter brought forth by CFD District Chief Will Jones against CFD Assistant Chief Mose Demasi.
  • Chief Jones had verbalized allegations of wrongdoing against Assistant Chief Demasi on February 13, 2014 and subsequently documented those allegations in writing on February 18, 2014.
  • Plaintiff’s request to Defendant Black concluded as follows:

Sir, our overarching goal is to maintain the integrity of the CFD and the city we serve. We support Chief Jones who, at the risk of alienating himself among his peers and superiors, displayed moral courage in coming forward and reporting possible procedural violations against the CFD and our great city. If we are to preserve one of our most cherished core values, integrity, we will need your assistance. Therefore, we respectfully request that your administration prudently respond and visit this matter most urgently.

  • Despite the importance of the matter and the urgency of Plaintiff’s request, Defendant Black ignored the matter.
  • In July 2015, Plaintiff received a call from an anonymous individual reporting that CFD Assistant Chief Robert Kuhn appeared to be on duty under the influence of alcohol.
  • Plaintiff immediately reported the complaint to his direct supervisor at the time, CFD Assistant Chief Roy Winston.
  • Subsequently, Kuhn was put on paid leave as the City investigated the allegation.
  • Thereafter, Plaintiff heard from numerous individuals that Defendant Black was describing Plaintiff as a “troublemaker.”
  • In April of 2016, Plaintiff applied for the position of Assistant Fire Chief. He was the most qualified individual applying for the position.
  • Despite being the most qualified individual applying for this position, Plaintiff’s application was denied.
  • Defendant Black was the ultimate decision maker on Plaintiff’s application to become Assistant Fire Chief.
  • Plaintiff applied again for the CFD Assistant Fire Chief in July of 2017.
  • Again, Plaintiff was the most qualified individual applying for the position.
  • Again, despite being the most qualified individual applying for the position, Plaintiff’s application was denied.
  • Again, Defendant Black was the ultimate decision maker on Plaintiff’s application for the position of CFD Assistant Fire Chief.
  • Defendant Black denied Plaintiff’s promotion to Assistant Fire Chief in April of 2016 and July of 2017 in retaliation for the issues Plaintiff raised in February 2015 and July of 2015.
  • Defendant’s actions deprived Plaintiff of his protected interest in his good name and professional reputation.
  • Defendant’s intentional, malicious, and wanton actions effectively foreclosed the opportunity for Plaintiff to advance his career within the CFD by unlawfully denying him promotion to the position of Assistant Fire Chief for which he was well-qualified, in retaliation for the issues raised with Defendant Black in February 2015 and July 2015 as detailed above.
  • As a direct and proximate result of Defendant’s unlawful, retaliatory conduct, Plaintiff has suffered injury and damage for which he is entitled to judgment and relief.

Chief Prophett is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, costs and attorneys fees, in addition to an order that he be promoted to Assistant Chief.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Prophett v Black


About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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