Appeals court revives retaliation lawsuit by ex-detective who refused to cover up DEA beating

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WICHITA, Kansas — A former Kansas City, Kansas, police detective who refused to conceal a motorist's beating by federal agents is entitled to have a jury decide whether his employer punished him for truthfully testifying about his investigation into the incident, a federal appeals court ruled.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court was wrong when it summarily threw out without trial the lawsuit filed by former detective Max Seifert against the Unified Government of Wyandotte. The court on Friday sent the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Marten so a jury can decide the facts of the case.

Seifert alleges in his lawsuit that he has faced retaliation after investigating Drug Enforcement Administration agents involved in a 2003 "road rage" incident that left a man with permanent brain damage. He contends he was removed from investigations and his reserve commission revoked as punishment for his testimony on behalf of the injured man.

"In his many years of law enforcement he has approached his job with great dedication, integrity and a commitment to the truth. He believes in our justice system and looks forward to his day in court," his attorney, Cheryl Pilate, said Monday.

Attorneys for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and other defendants said in an email Monday they would contact their clients to determine whether they wished to comment.

In its 36-page ruling, the appeals court also found that Seifert had a First Amendment speech right to testify on behalf of the injured man.

"Mr. Seifert will always do his duty when he is subpoenaed to court — which is to give truthful testimony," Pilate said. "I don't think that is anything any witness ought to regret."

All the legal maneuvering stems from a 2003 minor car accident involving motorist Barron Bowling and a DEA agent traveling in an unmarked car. The accident was later found to be the agent's fault, but when Bowling refused to stop the DEA agent called for backup. When he was finally stopped, the men beat him. Seifert investigated the incident.

Seifert was initially subpoenaed as a defense witness in a 2005 criminal trial in which the beaten motorist was found not guilty of a felony charge related to the accident. Seifert testified again in 2010 in the civil case brought by the motorist against the United States.

In that separate case, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson excoriated the Kansas City Police Department in a scathing 2010 decision for the "shameful" way it treated Seifert, whom she called the most credible of all witnesses. The judge awarded the motorist $833,250 in damages against the DEA.

Seifert was shunned and treated as a pariah by his police colleagues and superiors following his testimony, Robinson said. After Seifert's forced retirement from law enforcement in 2005, he was denied a commission that would allow him to work as a security guard.

"Seifert was balkanized for crossing the 'thin blue line,'" Robinson wrote, adding that Seifert had conducted a thorough investigation and lost his career over the Bowling case.

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