Metro-East News

Columbia police chief’s ex-wife sues school district, alleges phone snooping

Joe Edwards, former chief of police in Columbia.
Joe Edwards, former chief of police in Columbia.

The former wife of Columbia’s police chief has filed suit against her employer, the Columbia School district, alleging that school employees illegally snooped on her phone conversations.

Carla Edwards filed suit on Thursday in federal court against Columbia Community Unit School District 4 and unnamed individual employees.

Edwards alleged that distributing transcriptions of private communications in her phone was to “disparage the reputation of (Edwards) and affect her employment and family life.” Edwards works as a teacher’s aide in the district.

Edwards alleged her former husband, then-Chief of Police Joe Edwards, compiled information on a thumb drive and, while in uniform, provided it to school district employees. This information was taken from Carla Edwards’ private cell phone without her authorization, the suit stated.

Carla Edwards further alleged that a false report was made to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

“In or about late 2015 and/or early 2016, defendants Jane and John Doe school district employees perpetrated or conspired to perpetrate various actions whose intent was to inflict severe emotional distress upon (Carla Edwards), including but not limited to: threatening her employment status, consciously filing a false report with a state agency making baseless allegations impugning her fitness as a parent; publicizing illegally obtained private communications throughout (Carla Edwards’) work environment and her daughter’s school environment without context and then taking the official stance that these communications which were taken out of context were nonetheless threatening to various others with whom (Carla Edwards) works,” the lawsuit states.

Russell Watters, Carla Edwards’ attorney, declined to comment on the suit.

Columbia Superintendent Gina Segobiano said she couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

The suit stated Carla Edwards was threatened with discipline, and her employment was threatened by the school district employees, unless she signed a document admitting acts she denied committing, the suit states.

Earlier this month, Carla Edwards settled a case against the city of Columbia for $150,000, according to settlement documents obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Carla Edwards filed suit against the city in July, alleging the city and its police officers violated her civil rights by placing spyware on her private cell phone and eavesdropping on her private conversations at the instruction of her estranged husband, Joe Edwards.

Joe and Carla Edwards were divorced Oct. 24, 2014, but the battle over custody of the couple’s two children continues. There are several pending motions, but they have not been set for hearing, according to the Monroe County Circuit Clerk.

As a result of the investigation, Joe Edwards retired on April 30, according to a separation agreement and release obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Under the agreement, Edwards and the city agreed the city would only provide prospective employers with a copy of his letter announcing his retirement, a copy of his personnel file, dates of employment and position held with the city. He received just over $40,000 in unused comp time and vacation time. The city also agreed to pay two months of health and dental insurance premiums.

Carla Edwards is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the suit against the school district, as well as legal fees and court costs.