CHICAGO - Hines hospital employee Territa Stennis said she was arrested at work by a VA police officer in retaliation for refusing to alter the officer's education reimbursement documentation.
The federal watchdog where Stennis filed a complaint is the Washington D.C.-based US Office of Special Counsel, or OSC. After reviewing her allegations, the OSC has directed the Veterans Administration to investigate what it calls a "substantial likelihood of wrongdoing" regarding her 2016 workplace issue. Although it is not a final determination, OSC directed the VA to look into allegations of an "abuse of authority" in which Stennis was hauled out of her office and put in not just one pair of handcuffs, but two.
As part of her job at the Hines VA Hospital, Stennis approves education expenses for employees who want to go back to school. In 2016, Stennis said she discovered a reimbursement problem in a police officer's continuing education request. Instead of having a college class reimbursed properly, Stennis says Officer William Armstrong was advanced $900 without proving he paid for the course and then, she said, he came to her office to get the paperwork changed. Stennis said she refused to alter the paperwork, and in the complaint she filed with the OSC she said Armstrong "hit the door and stormed away" after her refusal.
According to her complaint, it was then that an old dispute about unpaid parking tickets heated up. Emails from before and after the reimbursement issue show Officer Armstrong attempting to serve Stennis with a summons to appear in federal court about old parking tickets on VA property. After she didn't go to court, the federal court issued a warrant for her arrest. In November, Armstrong showed up at her office again to serve that warrant.
'I felt like I couldn't breathe'
Stennis said on the ride downtown from the VA, she told the officers she couldn't breathe.
'I just kept thinking that God wouldn?t allow this to happen'
When they arrived at the federal courthouse, U.S. Marshal Service deputies called an ambulance that rushed her to Northwestern. There, doctors diagnosed her with a chest wall injury.
"If you've got a nonviolent person who's being hauled in for parking tickets you should see a minimum level of force or no force being applied," said former federal prosecutor and ABC7 Legal Analyst Gil Soffer.
Officer William Armstrong didn't return the ABC7 I-Team's calls for comment and referred all questions to VA officials.
VA officials told the I-Team that Hines VA Officer Armstrong, now a sergeant, "didn't do anything wrong" and that the "officers acted appropriately" when arresting Stennis for what they call "illegal behavior" including parking in a handicapped space. They also claimed she has 15 parking violations since 2012. Stennis said that's untrue. VA officials also told the I-Team her claim about whistleblowing triggering this whole incident is "completely unfounded, with no basis in fact whatsoever." As for the two separate sets of handcuffs Stennis said she was put in, VA officials claimed they were actually connected to give Stennis a "greater range of motion."
After the incident, Stennis and her lawyer worked out a plan to pay the parking tickets. The VA investigation directed by the OSC was supposed to wrap up in 60 days but just last week they extended it.