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Former police officer sues Rocky Mount, claiming police chief retaliated against him

He was an officer from 2017 to 2020

Rocky Mount, Virginia
Rocky Mount, Virginia

ROCKY MOUNT, Va. – A former officer with the Rocky Mount Police Department is suing the town, claiming he was the victim of retaliation, which resulted in him leaving the force.

Justin Smith filed the lawsuit on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

The lawsuit explains that Smith joined the department in 2017 under Chief Ken Criner.

Former Rocky Mount Police Chief Ken Criner (Town of Rocky Mount)

While working for the department, Smith, “learned that Criner had made terribly inappropriate and offensive comments concerning female employees and other women and in particular one of Criner’s administrative assistants, who at the time was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, all of which over time created an extremely hostile work environment,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit continues and explains that Smith helped two women who worked for the department file complaints with the town and charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The lawsuit includes copies of those two complaints, which contain multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior by Criner.

These are some of the specific comments the complaints claim Criner made:

  • In talking about a woman who had cancer and had to miss work, “the b*$%^ gets a little bump on her titty and has to be out five weeks”
  • In talking about that same employee who had a weakened immune system and would cough at times at her desk, “the b*$%^ is barking like a seal.”
  • One day, when an attractive woman walked by the window, he said, “I would tap that.”

After Smith assisted these women, he claims Criner immediately retaliated against him, which included putting all overtime on hold.

Two days after a newspaper article regarding Criner’s conduct was printed on May 30, 2020, Smith was removed as an investigator and reassigned to patrol, according to the lawsuit.

“As a result of the harassment and retaliation, Smith left the police department on June 18, 2020,” according to the lawsuit.

Criner retired from his role as police chief on Sept. 2, 2021.

The lawsuit claims the retirement was forced upon him by leadership for the Town of Rocky Mount.


About the Author:

Jeff Williamson arrived at WSLS 10 in March 2016.