The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety and a state insurer agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a former trooper’s claims of retaliation after he raised concerns about cheating in the agency’s promotional process.
The Department of Public Safety and American Group International Inc. agreed to pay former Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Troy German $231,710 and his attorneys $168,289 in January, just before the retired trooper’s lawsuit was set to go to trial in federal court.
German also agreed not to seek or accept new employment at the Department of Public Safety as part of the settlement. The Frontier obtained a copy of the agreement through an open records request.
German claimed the former leadership at the Department of Public Safety conspired against him after he reported concerns about a favored state trooper who allegedly received questions and answers to agency promotional exams.
Three of the defendants in German’s lawsuit, former Commissioner of Public Safety Rusty Rhoades, former Assistant Commissioner Megan Simpson and former Chief of Patrol Michael Harrell say the state entered into the settlement over their protests.
The former DPS leaders lost their jobs in the wake of German’s allegations and told The Frontier they believe a trial would have cleared them of all claims of wrongdoing. In an interview with The Frontier, Rhoades said the state’s decision to settle was a “cover-up.”
The Department of Public Safety described the settlement as a “business decision” in a written response to The Frontier’s questions.
“The settlement agreement is not confidential. The business decision to settle the case was in no way a ‘cover up’ and DPS categorically denies this allegation,” the statement said.
Rhoades’ association with the German scandal marred his 30-year career with the Department of Public Safety, he said in an emotional sit-down interview with The Frontier. He and Simpson had their reputations damaged and struggled to find work after being forced out of their state jobs, they told The Frontier.
Rhoades said he wanted German’s lawsuit to go to trial so he could clear his name.
“A quick Google search makes me look like a bad person, so that’s part of why we want the truth out there,” Rhoades said.
In a statement, Harrell said the settlement sends a “terrible message” to the citizens of Oklahoma.
“I think it is just a green light to those who create schemes to defraud taxpayers out of their money by making false allegations when they’re caught, so the state of Oklahoma will pay them hush money,” Harrell said. “He didn’t do this alone. The responsibility for this miscarriage of justice goes all the way to the top.”
German’s attorneys had named Gov. Kevin Stitt, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat and current Department of Public Safety Commissioner Tim Tipton as potential witnesses at trial.
German claimed the Department of Public Safety top brass gave Trooper Brian Orr the questions and answers for promotional exams in advance to win favor with state lawmakers who wanted to see Orr promoted. Orr was a popular trooper who sometimes served as a bodyguard for University of Oklahoma football coaches.
German’s lawsuit also claimed that agency leaders launched a retaliatory investigation against him after they learned he had been talking with state lawmakers about the alleged cheating.
The Oklahoma Multicounty Grand Jury indicted German in February 2019 on a charge of blackmail for allegedly threatening to expose improprieties in OHP’s promotional process unless Rhoades promoted him or helped him secure a political appointment. German denied he was trying to blackmail Rhoades and claimed he was pushing for reform at the agency. The charge against German was later dismissed and German retired from the patrol.
Rhoades, Simpson and Harrell have filed their own wrongful termination lawsuit that contains, among other claims, the allegation that Tipton hid German’s personal cell phone at his home “in what is believed an effort to hide evidence and interfere with an investigation” into German’s alleged blackmail efforts.
Stitt appointed Tipton to lead the Department of Public Safety in September. The appointment must still be confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate. Tipton did not have decision-making authority over whether to enter into the settlement with German, the Department of Public Safety said.
Attorneys for German and Orr did not respond to emailed interview requests from The Frontier.
Some of the money the state used to pay the settlement came from its insurance company and some of it came from Department of Public Safety civil asset forfeiture funds — money seized by law enforcement in drug cases.
State vendor records show the Department of Public Safety also used forfeiture money to pay more than $250,000 in attorneys fees in the German lawsuit and to defend the agency in Rhoades, Harrell and Simpson’s lawsuit.
The Department of Public Safety said there are no legal restrictions on the state forfeiture money it used.