KINGWOOD — Two former Kingwood Police officers are suing the mayor and city council, claiming they were forced out because they refused to disclose details of a drug investigation involving prominent residents.
Chief Todd Nestor and officer Felix Thorn resigned in April. Council members and Mayor Jean Guillot — called Juan Guillot in the lawsuit — have not explained the resignations. The mayor told media at the time that State Police were investigating the department.
In the suit filed Tuesday in Preston Circuit Court, the officers said they were instructed to resign or be fired because they were investigating some “high-profile” people in Kingwood for drug-related incidents.
According to the suit:
In July 2017, the Preston County Sheriff’s Department asked Nestor to assist at the scene of an ATV accident that involved two people recently elected to Kingwood Council and another public official.
No arrests were made, but one new council member expressed “indignation” at Nestor being there, outside town. The group was, “intoxicated, belligerent and aggressive toward EMS.”
Soon after, Nestor began investigating drug activities in Kingwood “involving, directly or indirectly, several high-profile or well-connected persons.” The suit claims that to maintain the integrity of the investigation, Nestor “needed to keep all investigative tools confidential.”
On April 9, Nestor made a traffic stop on Tunnelton Street that led to drug charges against five people. “The person[s] to whom the drug delivery was intended were and are prominent members of the Preston County community with direct or indirect connections to the Defendants to this civil action.”
On April 25, the mayor called Nestor to a party at The Preston County Inn, which Guillot owns, and questioned the investigative methods. “Present at the party were several city council members and other individuals who had professional, familial or other connections to the subjects of the ongoing drug investigation.”
The next day, Nestor told the mayor about the investigation. A day later, the council met, called in Nestor and Thorn, and told them to resign or be fired. They were not given an opportunity for a personnel hearing or to contact an attorney, violating their rights, the lawsuit alleges.
Recorder Bill Robertson said Nestor’s refusal to disclose details of the investigation to the mayor was “gross insubordination.” Nestor reminded council of its relationships to those under investigation and said he “did not want this information being used against the targets of the investigation in upcoming elections .”
Two State Police troopers were present and took the officers’ duty belts. The plaintiffs contend Guillot’s assertion that State Police were investigating Nestor and Thorn was “false” and constituted defamation of character.
The council’s actions violated the whistle blower statute, the suit alleges, and constituted obstruction of justice. The officers claim they were harassed, intimidated and became the subjects of retaliation. They claim their termination was “malicious, wanton, groundless and in bad faith.”
Nestor, Thorn and their attorney, David Grunau, are seeking unspecified punitive damages, attorney fees, compensatory damages for mental and emotional anguish, lost income and benefits, and any other relief the court might deem proper.
City officials had not been served with the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon. City attorney Sheila Williams said the city had no comment on pending litigation.
Story by Kathy Plum