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He was an ambitious young officer. Before becoming sergeant, he served on a multi-agency narcotics squad that required undercover work. Poletis liked action, and he liked authority. He once suggested to his superiors that the department should institute formal guidelines for how long officers could wear their hair.
His Prairie Village police career began to unravel at a department Christmas party in 1985.
Poletis and other celebrants who didn't want the festivities to end took the party to Tasso's, the Greek restaurant in Waldo. Poletis was with his wife, Mary. By 2 a.m., he had consumed 15 beers.
At one point late in the night, a female officer, Bobbe Loomis, asked to talk to Poletis. The exchange ended with Poletis slapping her twice across the face and having to be restrained by his co-workers.
In two lawsuits, Loomis and Poletis disputed the context of the conversation. Loomis admitted to suggesting that the conversation not take place in a hot tub, which made it sound as if such a scenario had taken place. Mary Poletis heard the comment and took offense. Loomis said in a deposition that she and Poletis tried to assure Mary that the hot-tub mention had been a joke.
In Loomis' version of events, Poletis and his wife were on the dance floor for 15 minutes. Then, Poletis came toward Loomis, screamed at her and slapped her so hard, she was unconscious when he delivered a second blow.
Poletis claimed that Loomis was the instigator, that she got in his wife's face and pulled on her shoulder. Poletis said he struck Loomis in an effort to protect his wife, who had been ill.
Multiple witnesses said Poletis called Loomis a "cunt" and other derogatory names. "He looked like he was completely out of control," said one woman who witnessed the altercation.
After learning of the incident, Prairie Village's chief of police, Louis LeManske, recommended that Poletis be suspended and lose his rank.
Poletis appealed that decision to the city's Civil Service Commission. The hearing revealed tension that went beyond a beer-soaked bar fight. LeManske told the commission that he had begun to carry his service revolver because he was fearful of Poletis. (The suspension was upheld, but Poletis retained the rank of sergeant.)
A few months later, LeManske suspended Poletis for firing warning shots, which was against procedure. In the fall of 1986, after Poletis was accused of mishandling evidence, LeManske recommended to the mayor that Poletis be fired.
Poletis tells The Pitch that he became the object of retaliation. His lawyers had notified the city of his intent to file a civil rights lawsuit at around the time that the warning shots were fired. A judge dismissed the case in 1989. "I tell you why I lost," Poletis explains. "I wasn't part of a protected class of people. I wasn't gay. I wasn't black. I wasn't a female. And the judge said I didn't have a right to have a lawsuit."
Loomis, meanwhile, sued the police department for sexual harassment and discrimination. She claimed that Poletis, in addition to hitting her, had said women should not be police officers. She settled with the city for a reported $85,000.
On January 26, 1987 — a few days before the Prairie Village mayor accepted LeManske's recommendation — Poletis started at the Kansas City, Missouri, police academy. There, too, the chief sought to fire Poletis.
Poletis ran into trouble for flouting the city's residency requirement. He rented a midtown apartment, but he and his wife spent their days and nights in Prairie Village. Further complicating matters, Poletis allowed the apartment landlord to claim that Poletis was disabled and eligible for public assistance.