For co-workers and fellow police officers, the alternative lifestyle of Cincinnati Police Officer Phillip Barnes was no secret and no big deal, those who worked with him say.
District 5 Capt. Phyllis Caskey said Barnes' bisexuality was "common knowledge." She said Barnes was well-liked and very popular among police officers in the district.
Barnes' sexual orientation became public knowledge in a July 15 story in The Cincinnati Enquirer. Barnes is claiming that he is being demoted not because of his work, but because of his sexual orientation.
The 18-year veteran officer was promoted to sergeant in January, but failed the probationary period and was forced to step down from the position two weeks ago.
Caskey, a former supervisor of Barnes, said that his sexual orientation never was raised as an issue during the 11 years he worked at the district
Upon the advice of his lawyer, Barnes has postponed granting further interviews with the media
According to the Enquirer story, Barnes said he was subjected to harassing sexual comments during his sergeant's training and was demoted from the position because of his sexual orientation.
Kathy Tscheiner, a public information officer for the police division, said that according to the division's personnel office, no sergeant aside from Barnes had failed probation in the past five years because of poor job performance.
The decision to fail Barnes was based on several recommendations in the police division. One of those recommendations came from District 1 Capt. Vincent Demasi.
"Police officer to sergeant is not an easy jump," Demasi said. "I did everything in my power to get him through this program."
Demasi said his recommendation not to pass Barnes out of probation as a sergeant was based on job performances that are "fundamental" to the position.
As an example, Demasi cited an incident in which Barnes was instructed to telephone an off-duty police officer for information regarding an investigation.
Instead of directly contacting the officer, Barnes "pretended" to have a conversation with the officer on the officer's answering machine, Demasi said.
"My biggest concern was that he would make comments that weren't factual comments," Demasi said. "(Sergeants) are fundamental to the agency ... and they deal with the integrity of the organization."
Barnes also had trouble writing reports because of "atrocious" spelling and grammatical problems, Demasi said.
Demasi said he wanted to make it clear that he was unaware of Barnes' lifestyle.
"I'm a police professional, and I don't now, nor have I ever, judged on race, color, sexual orientation or any other thing relating to their personal business," he said. "I'm insulted by the thought of that."
Civil-rights lawyer Al Gerhardstein, who is representing Barnes, said that harassing comments were made to Barnes after he was promoted.
"The man has been well-recognized in the force as being liked," Gerhardstein said. "Suddenly, he becomes a leader, and they find problems with him."
He said the reason fellow police officers liked Barnes before he was promoted was because "he didn't hold rank over them."
Gerhardstein said there was evidence of prejudiced feelings against Barnes from the people who made the decision to demote him.
"That's the issue we will pursue in this case," he said.
The Fraternal Order of Police, the Sentinel Police Association and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are reviewing Barnes' complaint.
Barnes will not be able to appeal the demotion under Civil Service regulations.
Caskey said that during his time at District 5, Barnes never was judged in a job performance review because of lifestyle choices.
"I don't run a popularity contest," Caskey said. "Lifestyle or personality, whether conventional or alternative, is not an issue. Job performance is the issue."
Caskey recalled that when she first entered the division 31 years ago, it was primarily a "male organization" and variance from that was not the norm.
But now, the police division is "quite diverse," she said. ©