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$3 million judgment upheld for fired police officer

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a $3.2 million judgment against the city of Coeur d’Alene for firing a police lieutenant without cause.

Dan Dixon, who had worked 17 years for the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, and his wife Heidi Dixon sued the city in 2009. His firing that summer followed a string of frivolous complaints against him by a subordinate, the couple argued.

Hayden attorney Larry Beck said his clients urge city officials “to finally recognize and accept the jury’s unanimous verdict” in their favor.

City Attorney Mike Gridley said he will review the decision and consult with outside legal counsel to consider what to do next.

“We still believe the city and city employees acted correctly,” Gridley said today. “We can’t comment on what our options are at this point.”

Dan Dixon said he was subjected to four internal complaints by police Sgt. Daniel O’Dell in 2007 and 2008, and he complained to superiors of harassment by a subordinate.

Instead of addressing his concerns, Dixon said, the department opened a six-month investigation into his conduct, including allegations he manipulated O’Dell’s work schedule in an effort to intimidate or harass the sergeant, and that Dixon falsified his own record of time worked.

The city offered to keep Dixon on the force if he agreed to a demotion to patrol officer and a pay cut. He refused and was fired.

In the suit, Dixon maintained the city produced no evidence showing he had stolen time from the city.

In its October 2011 verdict, the jury found Dixon was fired for reasons that were arbitrary and lacking a rational basis, and that the termination prevented him from finding another job in law enforcement.

The city appealed, arguing in part that the judge should not have excluded the results of polygraph tests given Dixon. The appeals court said it was correct to prohibit mention of those tests because of how the jury might interpret the evidence.

The court also concluded that despite other appeal points under federal law, the jury had other legally viable theories under state law on which to reach its verdict.

The appeal was argued Oct. 1 before a three-judge appeals court panel meeting at the University of Idaho in Moscow. The court upheld the jury verdict Thursday – a rapid turnaround in the federal court system.