A Baltimore Police detective is suing Commissioner Michael Harrison, Deputy Commissioner Brian Nadeau, an internal affairs captain and a retired colonel, claiming they conspired against him to prevent a separate, negligent death lawsuit against the department.
Detective Jeffrey Lilly’s lawyers filed the complaint in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Tuesday, and Lilly is seeking backpay and for a jury to award him and his wife an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.
In the complaint, Lilly claims Harrison, Nadeau, Public Integrity Bureau Capt. Lekeshia Blue and former police Col. Robert Smith “orchestrated and executed a continuous campaign of pressure and intimidation” to damage Lilly’s career, going as far as to suspend him without pay and serve him with a criminal warrant. His offense? Trying to recover a litter of French Bulldog puppies that James Blue III, Lekeshia Blue’s husband, had agreed to raise for the Lillys before James Blue was killed in January.
“The plaintiff’s allegations stated herein show that corruption and misconduct in the Baltimore Police Department are perpetuated by its policymakers and leaders,” attorneys Michael Turiello and Patrick Jennings wrote on behalf of Jeffrey and Raquel Lilly.
In its entirety, the lawsuit says the BPD has failed to reform its internal affairs division as required under the U.S. Department of Justice consent decree, with Lilly’s treatment as proof.
The complaint says Smith, using his relationships as a former high-ranking police official, leaned on the current administration to punish Lilly through a bogus internal affairs investigation, and that the administration obliged out of fear the Blue and Smith families would sue the department over James Blue’s death. (Smith is Lekeshia Blue’s step-father.)
James Blue was shot to death Jan. 25 in Northeast Baltimore, and the person arrested in his killing, 18-year-old Sahiou Kargbo, had two warrants out for his arrest before Blue’s death. One warrant was issued Jan. 20 for an armed robbery Jan. 6, and the other was issued Dec. 28, 2021, for a November shooting. A SWAT team arrested Kargbo at his home a day after James Blue’s killing.
A Baltimore Police spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon. However, the department typically does not comment on pending legal matters. The Smiths could not be reached for comment, either.
At the time of Blue’s death, city and county police officials blamed scheduling, planning and overtime concerns as reasons why officers didn’t serve the warrants sooner.
“The circumstances didn’t meet the criteria to call them in on overtime,” said Detective Chakia Fennoy, a city police spokeswoman, in February. “Baltimore County and SWAT supervisors agreed to execute the warrant on SWAT’s next date of availability.”
The lawsuit alleges that Harrison and Nadeau realized the department was derelict in its duty to serve the warrant and could be held liable in court for James Blue’s death. During his tenure with the Baltimore Police Department, Smith at one point oversaw the Warrant Apprehension Task Force, and would have known whether police served Kargbo’s warrants in a timely manner, or if they waited too long, the lawsuit reads.
The Baltimore Sun obtained a letter Baltimore attorney Billy Murphy sent May 31 to police department lawyers, on behalf of the Smiths and Lekeshia Blue, that said the families planned to sue the department for more than $1 million over James Blue’s death.
Murphy declined to comment about the pending matter between the Smiths, Lekeshia Blue and the Baltimore Police Department.
In the hours and days after James Blue died, the Lillys tried to work with Blue’s relatives, including Smith and his wife Delphine, to get the litter of five puppies back, according the complaint. Originally, the Blue and Smith families agreed to return the puppies, but later decided they wanted to keep them.
Raquel Lilly and Lekeshia Blue are cousins and Robert Smith is Lekeshia Blue’s step-father.
Lilly and his wife Raquel owned and operated Twisted Roots Kennels, a French Bulldog breeding company, and James Blue had a signed contract with the Lillys to raise their current litter in exchange for 60% of the proceeds from their sale, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says the total value of the litter was about $50,000.
On Jan. 30, five days after James Blue’s death and after multiple attempts to retrieve the puppies, the Lillys went to the Baltimore County Police Department to get their help in retrieving the dogs.
An officer met the Lillys outside of the Smith home, where the dogs were, and went inside to speak with Robert Smith, the retired colonel, and after a few minutes came back outside and said the family would not give up the dogs, according to the complaint.
A day later, Jan. 31, Jeffrey Lilly got a phone call from Baltimore Police Lt. Col. John Herzog, telling him Robert Smith had called police brass to get the Lillys to “stop bothering” the family about the dogs, according to the complaint.
On Feb. 2, Raquel Lilly filed a formal complaint with the Public Integrity Bureau, where Lekeshia Blue is stationed, claiming Herzog and Deputy Commissioner Sheree Briscoe were interfering in a private family matter, and that their interference had created a hostile work environment for her husband. No one ever followed up on Raquel Lilly’s complaint, according to the lawsuit, which alleges Lekeshia Blue conspired with Nadeau to make it disappear.
On Feb. 8, Jeffrey Lilly was summoned to a meeting with Deputy Commissioner Nadeau, who oversees Lekeshia Blue’s unit, where Nadeau apparently asked Lilly why he was “bothering the Smith family,” according to the complaint. Nadeau called the ordeal over the dogs “embarrassing” and said getting county police involved was “ruining” the relationship between the two departments.
Nadeau, according to the lawsuit, eventually revealed Robert Smith had called and complained, telling Jeffrey Lilly: The Smiths “are a police family.”
“Look at the timing of it all,” Nadeau said in the Feb. 8 meeting, according to the complaint. “I don’t want you to embarrass the BPD and get yourself in trouble.”
In the complaint, Jeffrey Lilly alleges Nadeau repeatedly said he did not want “anything bad” to happen to Lilly, and pressured him to quit pursuing the dogs. Lilly interpreted that as a threat and he and his wife stopped contacting Lekeshia Blue and the Smiths.
At the same time Lilly was seeking the dogs, the Smiths and Lekeshia Blue were preparing a wrongful death suit against the department, and police brass were concerned about the negative attention surrounding Blue’s death, according to the complaint.
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In March, the Lillys hired lawyers to help retrieve the dogs, sending a demand letter to the Smiths and Blues dated March 10, according to the suit. On March 15, the attorneys received confirmation the letter was delivered, but the litter was not returned. On March 25, Jeffrey Lilly received written notice from department leadership that he was under internal investigation for harassing Robert Smith and for providing “false information” to Baltimore County police about the contract between him and James Blue. Lilly’s attorneys allege in the suit that the Smiths prompted the department to look into him.
The Baltimore Police’s public integrity bureau scheduled an April 26 hearing for Lilly. Minutes before the supposedly confidential hearing began, officers served him with a criminal summons for forgery charges that Delphine Smith had sworn out against him hours earlier in Baltimore County accusing him of creating a fake contract about the puppies, according to the lawsuit. Lekeshia Blue was a lieutenant in the public integrity bureau at that time. She has since been promoted to captain.
Lilly declined to make any statements at the initial hearing and police officials suspended him without pay from his role as an FBI task force officer, according to the complaint. At that time, Lilly was the affiant on a wiretap case, meaning he submitted the warrant to the judge, investigating a string of drug-trafficking crimes and homicides in the city, and his attorneys said the false charges against him could have jeopardized the ongoing wiretap case.
Lilly had another hearing May 4 where he shared text messages between him and James Blue, and the signed contract in order to prove his innocence, according to the complaint. Officials upheld their decision and continued his suspension without pay.
On June 9, Lilly appeared in Baltimore County District Court on the forgery charges, presenting much of the same evidence to prosecutors as he did in his internal affairs hearing. Upon reviewing that evidence, prosecutors dismissed the charges against him, according to online court records.
Five days later, police officials lifted Lilly’s suspension and offered him backpay totaling $12,520 on the condition he disclose all of his financial records and agree to waive any claims of wrongdoing against the department, according to the complaint. Lilly declined the offer.
Lawyers for Lilly said the stress of the alleged pressure campaign against him added up, with Lilly visiting his doctor June 22 where he was informed he had likely suffered a heart attack, according to the complaint.