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Thoma sues city over dismissal

Action comes after rehiring deal rejected

The fired police sergeant who was caught driving drunk and leaving the scene of a collision filed a lawsuit against the city on Tuesday for wrongfully firing him.

Bob Dunn, the attorney representing fired Spokane police Sgt. Brad Thoma, said the suit is a response to the Spokane City Council’s unanimous vote on Monday rejecting a negotiated settlement.

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.

Dunn said Tuesday that Thoma’s lawsuit isn’t a bluff and that city leaders are worrying too much about anger within the community and not enough about the law and the risk the city faces after not settling.

“These are politicians who don’t have a clue about what they’re doing except wasting their taxpayers’ dollars,” Dunn said. “What I heard last night is the City Council saying get a rope and find a tree.”

Thoma claims that the city is discriminating against him for being an alcoholic and that he is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. With the help of the state Human Rights Commission, city attorneys and Thoma reached the settlement that went before the council Monday. But when details of the proposed deal came out last week, it drew public outcry and the rights commission said it would re-examine the agreement.

While the council was unified in its rejection of the settlement, there appears to be some disagreement about whether the city should consider any settlement in which Thoma would be rehired.

“Do I really need to put this guy in a position where he has a gun?” said Councilman Mike Fagan after Monday’s meeting.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said a deal that included a job and back pay clearly went too far but that he wouldn’t necessarily reject a deal that was limited to rehiring him in a demoted position.

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.

In a letter to City Attorney Howard Delaney sent just prior to Monday’s City Council meeting, Dunn reminded Delaney that he was awarded $833,000 in attorney fees last year after another client, Officer Jay Mehring, 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.

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 Department 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.”

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

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

On Monday, Thoma asked that his complaint about his firing to the state Human Rights Commission be dismissed. Dunn has said that the commission’s staff originally indicated that the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in its handling of Thoma’s discipline.

Laura Lindstrand, the Human Rights Commission’s policy analyst, said she could not discuss the specifics of the case, but that if Thoma asked for the complaint to be withdrawn, the commission’s staff would continue investigating it until the commission formally votes to dismiss. The earliest that could happen is late March, she said.