January 8, 2011 in City

Change in DUI law means fired cop can be rehired

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Thoma
(Full-size photo)

A former Spokane police sergeant fired after a drunken hit-and-run crash has been offered a spot as a detective after a change in state law lifted his driving restrictions.

City officials notified Bradley N. Thoma on Friday that he can return at the demoted level immediately after he obtained an unrestricted driver’s license this week, said Marlene Feist, city spokeswoman.

Thoma, a 20-year police veteran, has not yet accepted the position, which pays between $74,000 and $82,000 annually. He made about $91,000 as a sergeant.

Bob Dunn, a lawyer who filed a $4 million wrongful termination claim against the city on his behalf, was not available for comment Friday afternoon.

Thoma left the Spokane Police Department in December 2009 after Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said he wouldn’t be able to work as long as he was required to drive with an ignition interlock device. Thoma had entered a five-year deferred prosecution for a drunken driving arrest, which mandated that he drive with the device at all times.

Kirkpatrick had told Thoma he could try to qualify for a noncommissioned job with the city after she refused to sign a waiver that would have allowed him to drive a city vehicle without the interlock. Thoma didn’t accept the offer.

He appears to have been the first police officer in Washington to face job sanctions because of the requirement. But the state Legislature adjusted the law effective Jan. 1, and Thoma no longer has to drive with the device, Feist said.

Kirkpatrick said he could return as a detective once the ignition interlock condition was removed, which, under the old law, would take about two years. But with the device no longer required, Thoma is welcome back immediately, Feist said.

“He’s now obtained a valid license without those restrictions, and we are prepared to move forward,” Feist said. “(City officials) have been working with him all week.”

Kirkpatrick was not available for comment on Friday.

Dunn previously said his client was discriminated against because of his alcoholism, for which Thoma is required to seek treatment under the deferred prosecution program.

Thoma was off duty in his personal pickup when he rear-ended another pickup on Sept. 23, 2009, then drove away. He was arrested at a nearby grocery store parking lot and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 percent, more than twice the legal driving limit of 0.08.

The hit-and-run misdemeanor was dismissed, and the drunken driving charge will be dismissed if Thoma completes the deferred prosecution program.

The city’s job offer to Thoma came the same day a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy was sentenced in Spokane County District Court for drunken driving for an April incident.

Darin M. Schaum pleaded guilty and was ordered to spend 15 days on electronic home monitoring, be on probation for two years and perform 24 hours of community service. He’ll be required to drive with an ignition interlock device on his car for a year.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he will sign a waiver to allow Schaum to drive a patrol car without the device but won’t sign them for any future DUI arrests for any employees.

“Because of the seriousness of DUI, I’m just not willing to sign waivers anymore,” Knezovich said.

Schaum refused to submit a blood sample for alcohol tests after his arrest but retained his driver’s license after a hearing with the state Department of Licensing. He’ll lose it for 90 days because of the DUI conviction but will have an occupational license allowing him to drive during work, Knezovich said.

Schaum was suspended for three weeks last summer because of the arrest, Knezovich said. Lt. Stephen Jones, who was cited for drunken driving after a crash in Liberty Lake last January, was suspended for two weeks. His DUI charge has not been resolved.

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