Melissa McFadden

Last October, The Free Press asked when, if ever, Columbus Division of Police Chief Elaine Bryant would discipline Deputy Chief Jennifer Knight for sustained charges of retaliation against Lt. Melissa McFadden.  

Read the complete story here:

In the ten months we have been waiting to learn of Knight’s discipline, McFadden has won a federal lawsuit against the city and the Division proving discrimination and retaliation involving other actions taken against her by Knight and others. McFadden will be promoted to Commander on August 19th, an event delayed due to the discrimination proven to the jury in the federal lawsuit. 

And now, Knight has filed her own lawsuit against the City, Chief Bryant, Mayor Andrew Ginther,  two safety directors, and three other city employees. Notably, McFadden is not one of them, even though Knight names her thirty-three times in the complaint her attorney filed on August 5th. 

After reviewing Knight’s lawsuit, McFadden’s attorney Sam Schlein was disappointed about the false allegations against his client.  In an email response he wrote, “As Deputy Chief Knight well knows, Lt. McFadden was successful in proving her case against the City in federal court, and was in fact a victim of illegal retaliation and discrimination.” 

In the introduction to the complaint, Knight states, “The Defendants are trying to force [her] to resign and/or fabricate a case of misconduct against her to justify termination of her employment because she has been an outspoken critic of Defendants’ unlawful, racist, and corrupt policies and practices.”

This is the first evidence we’ve seen in ten months that Chief Bryant is taking any action at all against Knight, but if she wants Knight gone, Bryant has the power to terminate her rather than force her to resign. 

In the complaint, Knight claims her colleagues colluded to plan an action against McFadden for writing her book, Walking the Thin Black Line: Confronting Racism in the Columbus Division of Police.  Knowing that McFadden would fight back, they decided that Knight, “would be saddled with McFadden’s retaliation and they decided Plaintiff would be the scapegoat if it came to it.”

McFadden did fight back by filing a complaint against Knight with the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB), a process she is very familiar with. In her book, she details many fights throughout her career with the division when she has used division policy, the union contract, equal employment opportunity laws, and civil rights laws to defend herself and her colleagues from discrimination.  

In her complaint, Knight explains what happened next. “At the direction of Ginther and [Safety Director] Pettus, Lt. McFadden’s complaint was investigated by outside counsel, Marc Fishel, Esq. The IAB investigation into Lt. McFadden’s misconduct was immediately halted and terminated by Ginther and Pettus in early 2021. Mr. Fishel’s investigation was pretextual and the outcome was predetermined.”

Knight is one of the remaining members of the “clique” or “cabal” we reported on in 2020 after the George Floyd riots. Anonymous officers told us how this “clique” has strategized for and encouraged the over-policing of neighborhoods of color, for instance.

This “cabal,” they said back in 2020, also allowed bad cops to continue to police without holding them accountable for previous civil rights violations and brutality. At the same time, the “clique” held African-American officers and female officers to a higher standard of professionalism while disciplining them stricter and at a higher percentage compared to white male officers. The “clique” has also promoted their own to run police task forces and high-profiled units.

However, Early buyouts and other strategies have opened up slots on the org chart for officers like McFadden to move up to Commander rank.  

Schlein commented, “That Deputy Chief Knight is using this lawsuit to tarnish Lt. McFadden’s reputation is an unfortunate continuation of her campaign to degrade Lt. McFadden.” He looks forward to seeing how this case plays out.