Former Lott police chief files whistleblower lawsuit against city alleging retaliation, discrimination

Michael R. Hamilton seeking damages, reinstatement as chief
Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 9:42 PM CST
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LOTT, Texas (KWTX) - The former police chief of the defunct Lott Police Department has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city of Lott, alleging council members disbanded the police department and eliminated his job after he alleged wrongdoing by the mayor.

Michael R. Hamilton is seeking damages not to exceed $250,000 and reinstatement as chief in his lawsuit, filed last week in Waco’s 170th State District Court.

KWTX called Lott Mayor Sue Tacker, who said she was ill and could not do an on-camera interview. KWTX also called a spokeswoman for the Texas Municipal League, which will find an attorney to represent the city, but did not hear back on Monday.

According to the lawsuit, Hamilton, who had served as Lott police chief since January 2009, sent a letter to Falls County District Attorney Jody Gilliam on July 11 that outlined what he believed to be allegations of wrongdoing by Tacker. He also provided copies of the letter to the council, the lawsuit states.

That same night at a Lott City Council meeting, Tacker called Hamilton a “tattletale” and the council voted to “entirely defund the police department,” the lawsuit alleges.

“Mayor Tacker and the council then attempted to make the retaliation less obvious, delaying the matter until a second vote to eliminate the police department, at an Aug. 22, 2022, meeting,” according to the lawsuit. “They gave Chief Hamilton until noon the next day to turn over his keys and equipment. The mayor’s level of spite was such that she could not wait that long, going directly from that evening’s meeting to put a padlock on the door of the chief’s office.”

“Our budget has been going down for about the last three years, and we just have to get it in hand,” Tacker told KWTX at the Aug. 22 meeting. “It’s either that or we’re going to go broke and we won’t have a town, or a city council.”

The lawsuit, however, alleges that the city spent money “with abandon” in other budget areas and the council did not require other departments to turn a profit like they expected Hamilton to do.

Hamilton alleges in the lawsuit he was retaliated against for speaking out, in violation of his First Amendment rights, and that his job was eliminated in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act.

Hamilton alleged in his letter to the DA that Tacker and other council members violated Texas open meetings laws and circumvented open-session and agenda-posting requirements for council meetings. He also alleges the mayor misused her position to try to get a speeding ticket dismissed for an out-of-town motorist.

“As part of this, the mayor misused staff and budget fund/resources, apparently in order to make herself look good, to make Chief Hamilton look bad, or both,” the suit claims.

Tacker also treated Hamilton, who is Black, more strictly than city employees who are not, also in violation of Texas law, the lawsuit alleges.

“While Mayor Sue Tacker may never have been a big fan of Chief Hamilton’s, it was his July 11, 2022, report to the district attorney of what he believed to be her illegal conduct that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” the lawsuit alleges. “That is, it was the ‘but for’ cause of his termination.”

According to the lawsuit, Tacker’s “anger and resulting retaliation arose” despite the fact that Hamilton was not seeking her arrest. Instead, the lawsuit states, the letter expressed hope that “the Mayor will not violate the law further and we work together in a positive and legal manner.”

Hamilton’s attorney, David Schleicher, of Waco, said Hamilton has found a new job with a police department in another Texas city.

“We look forward to working with the city and the court to get this resolved some time very soon,” Schleicher said.

KWTX reported earlier this year that a three-page document presented to the city council showed the Lott Police Department generated $24,061 in 2021, while its expenses ran $425,771.

The document projected the police department would lose the city another $256,222 in 2022 and estimated that by eliminating it, the city would get out of the red and make a profit this year and next year.

“Lott doesn’t have a lot of businesses, we don’t have a lot of industry,” Tacker said in August. “In fact, probably Falls County is about the poorest county that there is. We are constantly paying out more than we have coming in. People think that Lott made a lot of money off of tickets and stuff, but people don’t realize about 75 percent of that went to the state.”

Hamilton alleges he expects to show through his lawsuit that “the numbers the city used to justify the elimination of the police department were not reliable, as a further reflection of pretext.”