SAGINAW, MI – A Saginaw County judge dismissed a former police detective’s lawsuit against the township who employed him, in which he argued he was fired for investigating a Roman Catholic priest now jailed for sex crimes.
On October 23, Saginaw County Circuit Judge Andre R. Borrello dismissed Brian J. Berg’s lawsuit against the Tittabawassee Township defendants and former Police Chief Dennis Green. The judge dismissed the case at the behest of attorney Stacy J. Belisle, who represented Green and the department.
In his trial, Berg alleged that then Chief Green pressured and then ordered him to drop a criminal investigation into Rev. Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand Jr., a priest working in Tittabawassee Township. and Saginaw County.
“We are disappointed with the decision,” said Detroit-based civil rights lawyer Jonathan R. Marko, who represents Berg. “It was not (rejected) on the merits. In other words, the judge did not find that Mr. Berg had not been discriminated against or that he had not been fired because of his investigation into Father DeLand or something from the kind. The judge simply found that he did not file a lawsuit soon enough after his dismissal.
Borrello discovered that Berg’s allegations stemmed from the Whistleblower Protection Act. The law requires plaintiffs to take legal action within 90 days of termination, a delay Marko has called “crazy.”
“It really excludes a lot of people from justice,” Marko said, adding that he had already filed an appeal. “We’ll see what the Court of Appeal has to say about this.”
Calls to Tittabawassee township offices requesting comment were answered with a voicemail message saying they are closed from November 11 to 13 due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. Belisle could not be reached immediately for comment.
The lawsuit alleged that Berg, employed by the police department since 2008, began investigating DeLand in November 2017 after receiving a complaint that the priest had improper contact with a minor.
The lawsuit alleged that Berg was forced to drop the investigation.
“Over time, the Chief Defendant Green pressured (Berg) to end the investigation and (him) ultimately ordered that the investigation be brought to an end, despite the fact that ( Berg) had several active leads against Father DeLand, ”the lawsuit said.
Police arrested DeLand in February 2018 and he has subsequently argued without question some of the charges he faced. Berg was fired in October 2018 in what the lawsuit alleges was “an attempt by Tittabawassee Township to interfere with Father DeLand’s investigation and criminal trial.”
Berg provided MLive with a written statement at the time of his termination.
“You shouldn’t expect a detective to look the other way, be called too effective or be told that the township doesn’t like media attention,” Berg wrote. “The recent high profile cases that the Township of Tittabawassee has experienced is not something that I personally sought. However, in the face of such crimes, I will always investigate the cases. “
The lawsuit listed three counts: wrongful dismissal in violation of public order, wrongful dismissal in violation of whistleblower protection law and violation of Michigan law. Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Marko had filed the complaint on Berg’s behalf on May 20. Berg is currently working part-time at another police department, Marko said.
“It really affects his ability to get promoted,” Marko said. “No one wants to hire a chef who is officially fired. Even today, the kind of amazing thing is that they still haven’t given a reason why he was fired.