A former Tacoma officer was wrongly 'publicly branded as a criminal,' lawsuit says

A former officer has sued the Tacoma Police Department, alleging that his superiors falsely accused him of overlapping work hours with other jobs.

The charge against Robert Luke was dismissed, but not before he was “publicly branded as a criminal,” according to the lawsuit.

“For this administration to backhand him the way it did at the end of his career under the guise of policing itself was just, quite frankly, a travesty,” Dan Kyler, one of Luke’s attorneys, told The News Tribune.

Pierce County prosecutors charged Luke two years ago with second-degree theft, and dropped the charge about 10 months later, citing insufficient evidence to support it.

Luke’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. He sought $5.5 million in a claim filed against the city as a precursor to the suit.

Police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

The complaint, filed March 6, gives this account:

Luke was a community liaison officer, and worked for the Police Department for more than 30 years. He also did off-duty work, including for the Port of Tacoma.

In the fall of 2015, he was hired to work there full time. His plan was to work both jobs for about two months, and complete 32 years at the police department.

His supervisor said that was OK, as long as he got his police work done.

After about a month of working the graveyard shift at the port and the day shift at the Police Department, Luke retired Oct. 1, 2015, when command personnel said they didn’t like the arrangement.

Meanwhile, the department investigated whether he had been “stealing time from the TPD in order to work off-duty jobs,” the lawsuit states.

The detective assigned to investigate the situation had previously made accusations against Luke “which were investigated and found false,” according to the suit.

And the detective allegedly didn’t interview people who “actually worked with plaintiff Robert Luke about whether or when he claimed to have been at work at TPD, he actually was at work there for his full paid time,” the lawsuit alleges.

It was based on that detective’s report that Luke was charged and arraigned on the theft charge.

The Police Department told the port about the investigation, that Luke had left the department in “bad standing” and that it was against Tacoma police rules and state regulations for Luke to work both jobs.

The information about the policy and regulations was “substantially inaccurate, untrue and made to put Robert Luke in a false light,” the suit states.

After those comments and the theft charge, Luke was fired from the port Feb. 3, 2016, and lost his medical insurance.

Someone from the Police Department also allegedly told Luke’s mortgage company about the case against him.

Luke since has been rehired at the port, and still works there.

Before that, he found work at the gun counter of a grocery store, and was fired when a background check showed he was facing the felony charge.

Then he worked painting highway lines, and laying concrete.

“As a result of the emotional strain that plaintiff Robert Luke underwent, having been publicly branded as a criminal after his career of attempting to prevent that kind of behavior, plaintiff Robert Luke developed a full body psoriasis that caused cracking and bleeding of his skin and itching so powerful that he was tormented daily and frequently unable to sleep,” the lawsuit states.

It notes that Luke was honored as a police officer for his work to make Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood safer. The Federal Bureau of Investigation awarded him for those efforts in 2006.