Disgraceful City of Mendota Heights Fires Sergeant for Simple “Mistake”

The City of Mendota Heights, MN recently fired Sergeant Bobby Lambert for a simple “mistake” that he made in a death investigation. The reason given for Sergeant Lambert’s termination is absurd.

Tom Hauser with KTSP 5 Eyewitness News reports:

“I’m shocked at the city’s decision to terminate me,” Lambert said during an impassioned 10-minute statement. “I’m saddened that someone who’s performed at a high level for so many years could be treated so maliciously.”

Fellow officers also spoke out saying they believe the decision to terminate the now former sergeant comes down to an issue of retaliation from the chief for a grievance Lambert and other officers filed in 2012.

“I’ve got to be careful up here because I don’t want to be sitting in that seat right there,” Mendota Heights Officer Mike Shepard said, as he pointed at the front row seat where Lambert was sitting.

“I know what happened,” fellow Officer John Larrive said. “You know what happened. Do the right thing. Support Bobby Lambert.”

Here’s what two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation tell 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS: In January, Lambert and other officers responded to what turned out to be a heroin overdose case. The victim was already dead when they arrived. The officers, with Lambert in charge on the scene, confiscated heroin, needles and other evidence without getting a search warrant. Sources say that prevented prosecutors from pursuing charges, possibly second degree murder, against whomever supplied the drugs.

It’s preposterous that a sergeant with an upstanding record would be fired for this “mistake.” I don’t even see a clear violation of case law here. Officers entered what I assume to be a constitutionally protected area, such as a residence, without a warrant. Officers were legally within the constitutionally protected area when they discovered the drugs and paraphernalia; evidence found would have been legally obtained. Maybe Minnesota has a much more strict warrant requirement than the rest of the nation, but even so, the evidence obtained should have been admissible. Sure, getting a warrant would have been the “safe” option here to obtain evidence in a homicide investigation, but did the officers even think that they may have been investigating a homicide?

Mendota Heights has a population of 11,000 people. Heroin overdoses where people are DOA are likely extremely rare in Mendota Heights. This is speculation, but it likely didn’t occur to any officers on scene that they could investigate the case as a homicide committed by the drug dealer for selling drugs to the decedent. Is it the fault of the officers on scene if they had never been trained to investigate such a scene as a homicide? If police officers got fired every time they made a reasonable mistake, there would be no police officers left in the world.

Then there’s the issue of how Sergeant Lambert was fired. Sergeant Lambert was in a probationary period because he was recently promoted to sergeant. In most agencies, sergeants would still be protected from termination without cause, and their probationary period only allows for them to be demoted. This does not appear to be the case in Mendota Heights. It is believed that Sergeant Lambert was fired as retaliation for reporting illegal activity within the police department. That makes Sergeant Lambert a whistleblower.

A common mistake about probationary periods is that many believe that someone in probationary status can be fired for any reason; this is not true. People in probationary status can be fired for no reason, not any reason. It is still illegal to fire probationary employees for reasons that are protected by law, such as race, age, etc. Minnesota has whistleblower protection laws, making it illegal to retaliate against whistleblowers. We expect that Mendota Heights is inviting a lawsuit with their illegal firing of Sergeant Lambert. Based on the unreasonable explanation given for Sergeant Lambert’s termination, we expect that he will have a strong case.