CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A former CMPD officer is suing the city of Charlotte for discrimination, and the case is set to go to trial next month.
He claims he faced a harsher punishment than a white officer.
Eyewitness News anchor Brittney Johnson learned he was fired, and taxpayer dollars were used to defend an officer accused of slandering him.
"I loved being a police officer," Michael Tinsley said.
After 16 years with CMPD, Tinsley lost his job in 2013. He's spent the last six years trying to clear his name.
"There is not a day that I don't think about it. It's my life. Policing was my life. The aftermath is my life," he said.
He said it started when he reported a fellow officer was stalking him. He'd been dating officer Aimee Aquino for roughly two years and said when things turned sour, she started showing up to his division’s facility.
Court documents state, "CMPD issued Aquino a directive on May 7 ordering her to not go to his division. On the same day, she filed a report with CMPD that plaintiff (Tinsley) had raped her on April 2."
"Disbelief was the first thing. I was completely caught off guard knowing, I just told them she had been stalking me," Tinsley said.
Tinsley adamantly denied the rape accusations. Both officers turned over their phone records for the investigation. According to court filings, the records showed the two continued dating after the date of the alleged assault and that Aquino was on the phone with another man during the exact time frame she said the rape occurred.
CMPD investigators determined the assault accusations were "not sustained."
Supervisors claimed Tinsley was dishonest during the investigation, so he was still disciplined. Tinsley denies that accusation as well saying he answered the questions as they asked them during separate interviews with investigators.
The department accused Tinsley of using department equipment for personal use while reviewing his text messages, which was unrelated to that investigation. CMPD moved to terminate him.
Outraged and out of work, Tinsley sued Aquino over the rape allegations.
A jury found that she'd slandered him.
The city used taxpayer dollars to cover her attorneys’ fees and a $41,000 settlement even though Tinsley had sued her personally and not in her role as an officer.
"It appeared to me that should not have been something the city should have paid," said attorney and former prosecutor Robert Corbett.
Tinsley turned to an acquaintance, Robert Corbett, for advice. Corbett was not directly involved but wondered whether, given the slander judgment, Aquino should have been allowed to continue working as an officer making arrests and testifying in court.
Under what's called the Giglio Policy, the district attorney's office must notify a defendant if any witnesses, including officers, have issues that could cast doubt on their trustworthiness.
“In terms of that info, that I think everyone would agree that is something that would affect an officer's credibility," Corbett said.
CMPD confirmed Aquino was still working for the department as of November.
Tinsley filed a federal lawsuit against the city if Charlotte claiming he was discriminated against. He said he received harsher punishment based on his race.
"There are officers that work for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department that have done far more severe things that are still employed," he said.
In November, a judge found that Tinsley provided sufficient evidence to go to trial with his lawsuit.
The judge wrote that part of Tinsley's termination was based on "allegedly dishonest behavior."
Referring to Aquino, who is white, the judge wrote that "CMPD is fully aware of Aquino's slander judgment, which is inherently dishonest. However, she remains employed."
"In the meanwhile, you're losing your house, your credibility, your reputation. It's crazy. It's draining," said Tinsley.
He struggled to land full-time work for years.
Tinsley, who now works construction, wants to be compensated for his termination.
He's also pushing for tougher penalties for people who file false police reports and for fair treatment for all officers.
"That is what fighting for what is right is about. That's what police work is," Tinsley said.
Johnson tried several times to reach Aquino for comment but didn't get a response. The city declined requests to speak on camera about the issue. City officials justified paying attorneys’ fees and the judgment for Aquino in the case with the following email response:
"Because the claim was related to statements Aquino made as part of an internal affairs investigation and because she was required by the department to participate in that investigation, CMPD felt it was appropriate for the city to pay for the verdict and costs."
Tinsley's lawsuit is set to go to trial Feb. 11.
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