A Southern Indiana police officer is suing the town that once employed him, seeking damages worth $700,000.

Charles Morgan was a sergeant with the Georgetown Police Department when he was placed on administrative leave by the town council in September 2019. Town officials then asked Indiana State Police to investigate accusations of misconduct against Morgan and then police chief Denny Kunkel. No details about the allegations were made public by the council.

After a seven-month investigation, Kunkel was charged with a felony for misappropriating funds. Morgan was cleared of any wrongdoing, and reinstated within a month.

Last year, Morgan filed a tort claim against the town. Now, he’s seeking damages from the town for defamation and civil rights violations.

“The reason my client wanted to take this route is to make sure that this doesn’t happen to another officer,” attorney Dustin White said. “False allegations were alleged against my client. We want to make sure that his integrity is restored, and that public officials are held accountable when they are making false allegations about their employees, especially their police officers.”

White said Morgan’s reputation was unjustly damaged by the ordeal. The council’s actions and the investigation that followed continue to affect Morgan, who’s now a deputy at a different department.

“Just two or three weeks ago in another town, a citizen impugned his integrity again based off these false allegations,” White said. “And that was a year and a half ago. So these things have lasting effects on police officers, especially Mr. Morgan, and we want to make sure that the town of Georgetown is held accountable for that.”

The civil rights claim is based on the police officers’ bill of rights, which outlines minimum due process for investigations involving officers. Indiana and Georgetown each have their own version.

Both require investigators to provide a copy of the complaint to the subject of an investigation. But White says the town never communicated the claims against Morgan.

White said this could be a test case for the statewide law, which took effect in 2019.

“It’s my understanding that this has not been something that’s been litigated since it was adopted,” White said. “So we want to determine exactly what civil rights exist legally, what cause of action they allow in court, and what remedy a law enforcement or public safety officer can achieve should those minimum civil rights be violated.”

At the time of Morgan’s suspension, Georgetown residents worried that the town council was working to disband its small police department in favor of contracting with the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department. Town officials denied those claims.

But emails obtained through a records request revealed that town attorney Kristi Fox had discussed financial terms with Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop.

That’s why White included civil conspiracy in the lawsuit.

“We will gather all that information, and all of that will be a part of any presentation that we have, should we go to trial,” White said. “That’s something that we will be seeking during the discovery phase of litigation to flesh out exactly what that was all about. And that would bolster the civil conspiracy claims that we have, I believe.”

Georgetown Council President Chris Loop said that, as of Tuesday morning, he hadn’t been served formal notice of the litigation. Fox did not respond to multiple interview requests.

Kunkel, the former Georgetown police chief, was the only person charged after the investigation. Investigators discovered that he had misappropriated more than $8,000 in tow-in fees. He was charged with two misdemeanors and a level 6 felony for official misconduct.

Last week, Kunkel entered a plea agreement, under which he was sentenced to a suspended one-year sentence and ordered to pay back the missing fees as restitution.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.