Ex-detective Claims He Was Fired for Investigating Catholic Sex Abuse Case in Saginaw County
By Cole Waterman
May 28, 2020
|Then-Tittabawassee Township Police Detective Brian J. Berg speaks during a press conference at the Saginaw Township Police Department on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018|
SAGINAW, MI — A former police detective has filed a lawsuit against the township that previously employed him, alleging he was fired for investigating sexual assault allegations against now-imprisoned Catholic priest Robert J. DeLand Jr.
Brian J. Berg, through Detroit-based civil rights attorney Jonathan R. Marko, earlier in May filed suit in Saginaw County Circuit Court naming Tittabawassee Township and Tittabawassee Police Chief Dennis Green as defendants.
The suit alleges Berg, employed by the township’s police department since 2008, began investigating DeLand in November 2017 after receiving a complaint that the priest had had inappropriate contact with a minor. Berg met with Green regarding this, then with representatives of the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office, the lawsuit states. It was decided a joint investigation would be conducted with detectives from the Saginaw Township Police Department, as they, too, had received a similar complaint against DeLand, the lawsuit states.
At the time, DeLand was pastor at St. Agnes Parish in Tittabawassee Township, volunteered as a greeter at Freeland High School, and was so popular a local road was named after him.
As the investigation was progressing, Tittabawassee Township Supervisor Rick Hayes in January 2018 approached Berg and told him, “This is going to rock this community,” the suit alleges. The suit further alleges Hayes told Berg, “Everybody loves Father Bob. You know you don’t have to prosecute everyone.”
Contacted by MLive, Hayes declined to comment on the matter, saying the township has not yet been served with the lawsuit. Hayes did confirm that Green is retiring from the department as of Friday, May 29.
The suit alleges Berg was pressured to drop the investigation.
“As time went on, Defendant Chief Green pressured (Berg) to discontinue the investigation, and eventually ordered (him) to terminate the investigation completely, despite the fact that (Berg) had several active leads against Father DeLand,” the suit contends.
|Robert J. DeLand Jr.'s prison mug shot|
Police arrested DeLand in February 2018 and he subsequently faced seven charges related to the alleged sexual assaults of two teens and one young man. Berg would testify in DeLand’s court proceedings and appear with prosecutors at press conferences regarding the matter.
DeLand in September 2018 pleaded no contest to all the charges he faced. Berg was fired in October 2018, something the lawsuit alleges was “an attempt by the Tittabawassee Township to interfere with the investigation and criminal trial of Father DeLand."
DeLand ended up withdrawing the no-contest pleas and went to trial on a few of the counts in March 2019 and was found not guilty by a jury. The day after the acquittal, with more trials looming, DeLand pleaded no contest to second-degree criminal sexual conduct, gross indecency between two males, and manufacturing or distributing an imitation controlled substance.
Berg provided MLive with a written statement at the time of his termination.
“A detective should not be expected to look the other way, be labeled too effective, or be told the township does not like media attention,” Berg wrote. “The recent high-profile cases Tittabawassee Township has experienced is not something I personally sought out. However, when presented with such crimes I will always investigate the cases.”
Berg’s lawsuit goes on to state he applied for the police chief position, something he claims he was promised before the DeLand investigation. He was denied the position.
The suit lists three counts — wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, wrongful termination in violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, and violation of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
“Mr. Berg did not allow Father DeLand’s clear and inappropriate influence over the community affect his duty to protect and serve vulnerable minors who had the strength to stand up to the sexual abuse they endured at the hand of Father DeLand,” said Marko, Berg’s attorney. “Mr. Berg should be lauded for his perseverance despite the pressure he received from his peers and supervisors to do otherwise. Instead, he was kicked to the curb by Tittabawassee Township and its chief of police with no explanation. It is clear that Tittabawassee Township did not want Mr. Berg to continue with his investigation or to testify or participate in Father DeLand’s criminal proceedings.”
Speaking directly to MLive, Marko said he plans to “be asking for a significant sum for what they did to him.”
Tittabawassee Township Manager Marc McGill declined to comment on the lawsuit when contacted by MLive. Green could not be reached for comment.
Marko also represents an adult relative of one of DeLand’s alleged victims in a lawsuit filed in March against the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.
Saginaw County Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson in April 2019 sentenced DeLand to two to 15 years in prison. DeLand, now 73, is currently incarcerated at Marquette Branch Prison in the Upper Peninsula.
The next court date for the lawsuit is pending.