May 3, 2018

Two Denison police officers who sued city leaders — claiming they were wrongly suspended and terminated — recently reached separate settlements with the city that totaled $900,000.

The settlement agreements were approved by the Denison City Council on Tuesday night.

Former Police Officers Brad Wendt, 41, and Ray Ohl, 28, filed suit in 2016 against the city and former Police Chief John Emswiler and claimed illegal retaliation.

They alleged the retaliation began after Ohl witnessed Emswiler enter an apartment without a warrant and Wendt reported the incident to the state Office of Ombudsman, which investigates complaints against government officials. Emswiler learned of Ohl and Wendt’s involvement in the complaint, their lawsuits said.

Wendt was suspended at the time for hunting-related crimes that were later dismissed in district court. He was originally suspended with pay, but Emswiler later decided the suspension would be without pay.

Ohl had been poised to become the department’s handler of a K-9 dog, but Emswiler later abruptly nixed Ohl’s role as handler and demanded he return the dog to the department.

Then Ohl and Wendt went public with dozens of racist, sexist and pornographic images that Emswiler kept on his work computer.

The images consisted mostly of altered photographs in which Emswiler put the heads of officers on the bodies of other people. The images also included racist and sexist themes that denigrated Latinos and joked about rape. Denison has one of the largest Hispanic populations of any city in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Emswiler resigned in June 2016.

Months before the resignation, then-Mayor Dan Leinen sought to diminish the severity of the photos: “We have two individuals who are backed into a corner and are trying to take the chief down with them. ... It’s a non-issue that they’re trying to make into a big issue.”

Ohl and Wendt sought to be reinstated to their jobs but were denied, and they sued.

The city agreed to pay $600,000 to Wendt and $300,000 to Ohl for emotional distress, lost wages and attorney fees, according to the settlement documents.

The city will pay $175,000 of that total — its insurance will cover the rest.