Apr 11, 2024 - News

Philly officer sues city for allegedly stiffing him on OT

Photo illustration of a Philadelphia police badge on a plate from the scales of justice.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Department of Justice

A reinstated Philadelphia police officer is suing the city, trying to recoup overtime he says he missed out on after being fired and charged with allegedly strangling his wife.

Why it matters: Removing police officers who face legal troubles or criminal charges poses challenges for the city, as evidenced by the complexities surrounding Sgt. Joseph Stevenson's case.

Driving the news: Stevenson says the city has only paid him about $22,000 out of more than $120,000 that he says he would've made if he hadn't been fired in 2020.

  • Stevenson pleaded to lesser charges to resolve the domestic violence case.
  • In 2023, an arbitrator ordered Stevenson reinstated and made "whole," per the lawsuit.

What's inside: Stevenson, whose salary is $98,000 a year, calculated his overtime based on the $36,000 he says he earned each year before being fired.

  • The city based his overtime payout on an average of what other officers made while Stevenson was sidelined, per the lawsuit.
  • Stevenson believes he's also entitled to banked vacation and holiday pay the city "unilaterally" deferred payment on until he retires, per the suit.

What they're saying: "I don't think it's greedy to ask for what you're entitled to," Steven Feinstein, Stevenson's attorney, tells Axios.

Catch up quick: Stevenson was fired from PPD in early 2020 shortly after being arrested by police and hit with several charges, including a felony for allegedly strangling his wife after a night of drinking.

  • Police said the woman had red marks around her neck and reported having her head repeatedly slammed against a door, per the arbitrator's decision.
  • Prosecutors withdrew the felony and misdemeanor charges in 2021. Stevenson was allowed to plead to disorderly conduct, an offense equivalent to a citation, under a deal that waived fines imposed on him.

Between the lines: Arbitrator Thomas Leonard overturned Stevenson's firing last year and ordered the city to remove disciplinary records related to the domestic violence case from his personnel file.

  • Leonard ruled that the city relied entirely on "hearsay" evidence at the arbitration hearing.
  • Neither Stevenson's wife nor any officers who responded to the call were asked to testify.
  • The city didn't produce body-worn camera footage of the police interaction with Stevenson's wife because the department didn't retain it, per the decision.

Those failures meant Stevenson was "denied the opportunity to cross examine the witnesses who are the foundation of the city's charges," Leonard wrote.

The other side: A city spokesperson declined to comment on the case.

  • The city has until next month to respond to the lawsuit.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Philadelphia.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Philadelphia stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Philadelphia.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more