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Thoma will file lawsuit against city today

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 28, 2012, 2:27 p.m.

The fired police sergeant who was caught driving drunk and leaving the scene of an accident will file a lawsuit against the city today for wrongfully firing him.

Bob Dunn, the attorney representing fired Spokane Police Sgt. Brad Thoma, said given the City Council’s vote on Monday rejecting a negotiated settlement, it wasn’t worth waiting longer to file suit.

The deal the council rejected would have given Thoma a demoted position as a detective, $275,000 in back pay and $15,000 for his attorney’s fees.

Before Monday’s meeting, Dunn proposed a new settlement deal that would have dropped the $15,000 in attorney’s fees.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said after the meeting that the council was aware that Dunn had made a new offer.

In a letter to City Attorney Howard Delaney just prior to Monday’s City Council meeting, Dunn said the new proposal was the last that the city would receive before he files a lawsuit. He attached a draft of the complaint he plans to file.

“Inexplicably, the city has now elected to postpone the agreement that was reached,” Dunn wrote previous to the City Council rejecting the settlement. “That is frankly unacceptable.”

Thoma was driving a pickup on Sept. 23, 2009, when he hit another pickup near the intersection of Farwell Road and U.S. Highway 2, then drove away. The victim and another driver followed Thoma to a supermarket. Thoma, whose blood alcohol level was measured at 0.171 after the crash, avoided criminal prosecution under an agreement approved in Spokane County District Court.

Dunn’s letter reminds Delaney that he was awarded $833,000 attorney fees last year after another client, Officer Jay Merhing, was awarded $722,000 by a jury, mostly for emotional distress and pain and suffering. Mehring was placed on unpaid leave from the police force after he was accused of threatening to kill his wife during a messy divorce. He was reinstated to the force and given back pay after a jury acquitted him in October 2008.

“We trust you will advise the mayor and City Council that the cost of this lawsuit will exponentially exceed the $15,000 attorney fees and costs previously stipulated between the parties,” Dunn said.

Thoma filed a claim with the city soon after he was fired alleging $4 million in damages. But Dunn said what’s most important to him is getting back to work.

“As he has consistently maintained since December 2009, Mr. Thoma simply wants to return to the Spokane Police Deaprtment and continue his career. What has apparently been lost in this past week’s events is that Brad Thoma served the city for over two decades and desires to end his career in Spokane.”

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