Courts & Corrections

Court security workers say whistleblowing caused firing

U.S. District Court
The U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont in Burlington. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

Duane Dingler has had a tough time finding work in the two years since he lost his job working security at the federal building in Burlington.

“Once your name is associated with whistleblower, it’s very problematic,” Dingler said.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court last month — in the same building where they worked for a collective 36 years — Dingler and his former co-worker James Dempsey say they were fired from their jobs with a private security contractor in retaliation for reporting alleged misconduct of their former supervisor.

The two men initially reported their case to the office of the inspector general for the Department of Justice. However, according to the lawsuit filed July 14, the office has yet to issue a report more than a year and a half later.

Before they were dismissed in 2015, Dempsey, 62, and Dingler, 60, were both special deputy U.S. Marshals, working for Inter-Con Security Systems. The California-based company contracts with the Department of Justice to provide security at several locations nationwide, including the Burlington building that contains the federal courthouse, U.S. attorney’s office and more.

Both men began working security at the building long before Inter-Con took over the contract in 2013, according to their lawsuit. Dempsey worked at the Burlington federal building for 15 years, and Dingler worked there for 21 years.

The two say they were fired because they reported that they believed their immediate supervisor, Robert Booher, was using illegal drugs and mishandling firearms at work.

Inter-Con did not respond to a request for comment. Court records show the company is due to respond to the lawsuit by Aug. 15.

According to the complaint, Booher asked Dempsey, Dingler and others if they had any unused prescription painkillers he could buy from them.

In late 2012, the complaint states, Booher left his gun locker at the building unlocked and open, with his set of keys — which allowed access to most areas of the building — dangling from the locker. Inside, according to Dempsey, was a loaded gun and a prescription bottle.

In early 2013, Dempsey saw a dowel-shaped piece of wood, like a toothpick carrier, under his locker, which he had seen Booher with. He removed the cap and found a small piece of plastic straw, which contained “a white flaky powder substance,” the complaint says.

When Dempsey went to a supervisor about the situation, he responded that the drugs were Booher’s prescriptions and told Dempsey to “not say a word to anyone about this,” according to court papers.

In subsequent years on multiple occasions, Dempsey says, he again saw a similar wooden dowel, prescription drug bottles and a loaded gun in and around the lockers.

After allegedly finding Booher’s locker open, unattended and with keys dangling from it in October 2014, Dingler tried to text a photograph to his attorney, accidentally sending it to a landline number.

Dingler was suspended for two days in December of that year for disclosing information to an outside individual, his lawyer.

Then, on April 2, 2015, Dingler allegedly saw Booher on a surveillance video walking down the hall of the sixth floor of the federal building, clad in civilian clothing and casually holding his personal handgun.

The complaint says that openly displaying and mishandling a firearm violates Justice Department policy.

In the following month, Booher was allegedly seen similarly handling the gun half a dozen more times. During the same month Dempsey says he again found a wooden dowel, powder and a quarter of a pill.

In early May, instead of going to his superiors within the contractor Inter-Con, Dempsey instead went higher up the chain to a supervisor in the U.S. Marshals Service and showed him the video. During the conversation, the supervisor said Dempsey could “get in a lot of trouble for this.”

According to the complaint, Booher was escorted from the building days later for mishandling his weapon.

Booher did not return a call for comment Wednesday. However, in an interview with The Burlington Free Press last year, he said accusations related to drugs were “totally made up.”

The Free Press reported that Booher acknowledged violating rules related to firearms but said of his firing that he was “railroaded.”

In the months after Booher’s dismissal, both Dempsey and Dingler were fired from their jobs with the contractor.

Inter-Con dismissed Dempsey in late June 2015. His firing was related to his use of a computer at work for listening to music, and because he used a card printer to make a card for his personal use, according to court papers.

Dingler was fired three months later while he was on medical leave. According to the court papers, he was never given a reason for his firing.

The two men initially took their case to the Justice Department inspector general in November 2015. Though they went through a lengthy interview with an investigator, according to Dingler, they have never received a report on the conclusion of the investigation.

A spokesperson for the inspector general’s office said the office would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation, per department policy.

Rich Cassidy, an attorney representing Dempsey, said they initially took the case to the inspector general because it was required by law before the case could go to court.

Cassidy said they decided to file in federal court because it falls under a federal whistleblower law, and because they wanted to bring the situation in federal courthouses to the attention of the judges who work there.

“We thought that the judges would want to know and should know about it,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy relayed that Dempsey said his dismissal has taken a toll on his finances, forcing him to take early retirement, and put him and his family under stress. He hasn’t been able to find another job.

“No one wants to hire a whistleblower,” Dempsey said in a statement.

Dingler said in an interview last week that he felt an obligation to report the behavior he saw his co-worker display. However, years later, he feels that he was fired from his job of more than two decades because he spoke up.

“See something, say something, get fired,” Dingler said.

(Editor’s note: The firm Rich Cassidy Law is representing VTDigger in an unrelated court case.)

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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  • Neil Johnson

    This is a classic illustration on how difficult it will be to change things in Washington.