A federal judge threw out on Tuesday the last of the civil claims against Spokane and a former police chief brought by an officer who was fired following a DUI arrest in 2009.
Bradley Thoma sued the city and former Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick for discrimination, breach of contract and other alleged damages following a three-year-long battle to reclaim his job and lost wages. U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. dismissed the last of Thoma’s claims - that he was retaliated against by the department when he asked for accommodations of his diagnosed alcoholism - and closed the civil case in a decision published Tuesday.
Thoma’s attorney, Bob Dunn, said the former Spokane police officer will appeal the dismissal of the case to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
City Council President Ben Stuckart lauded the federal court’s decision and dismissed claims by Dunn the rejection of a settlement agreement in February 2012 was a mistake. Dunn said when the lawsuit was filed, “These are politicians who don’t have a clue about what they’re doing except wasting their taxpayers’ dollars.”
“The dismissal of the charges proves the council was right, and we’re not idiots,” Stuckart said. “Bob Dunn, for all his bravado, the courts didn’t agree.”
“I’m glad we had the chance to prove him wrong,” Stuckart added.
Thoma was arrested for driving under the influence in September 2009 and ordered to use an ignition interlocking device to operate a motor vehicle. Kirkpatrick said it was impractical to outfit a police cruiser with such a device and offered to keep Thoma on “non-commissioned layoff status” for two years while the court order was in place. At the end of those two years, Thoma was to be considered at the top of the civil service list for re-employment with the department, though he would be demoted from sergeant to detective as punishment for his DUI.
Thoma rejected the offer. He was fired in December 2009.
At a hearing that month, Thoma said he made his employers aware that he suffered from alcoholism, which he described as a disability. In the claim rejected by Mendoza on Tuesday, Thoma said the department retaliated by failing to offer accommodations for his disability and terminating him.
But Mendoza said this claim did not pass muster.
“While this statement misconstrues the purpose and legal requirements of a reasonable accommodation, which is to accommodate a disability and not the collateral consequences of violating the laws that (Thoma) had sworn to uphold as a police officer, the Court has already found no discriminatory practices occurred,” Mendoza wrote, referring to a previous court order tossing Thoma’s discrimination claim.
Dunn said he and Thoma were not surprised by Mendoza’s ruling. He said the issue in the case remains the same as it was when the case was filed.
“The question is whether or not alcoholism is a disease,” Dunn said. “There’s a difference between what legislators have said and what the courts have said.”
Council president Stuckart said Thoma’s transgressions were too egregious to reinstate the officer.
“When someone is drunk, and then runs from the scene of the crime, there’s no way they should have their job back,” Stuckart said.
A settlement agreement brokered by city attorneys, Mayor David Condon and Thoma was signed in February 2012, pending approval by the state Human Rights Commission (with whom Thoma had lodged a complaint) and the Spokane City Council. The Commission rejected the agreement, which would have reinstated Thoma as a detective and given him back-pay at a sergeant’s salary for the two years he was laid off. Five days later, the City Council unanimously rejected the agreement, with Councilman Mike Fagan voting “hell no.”
Thoma sued the city the next day, initially forwarding nine civil claims. Mendoza’s rejection of the retaliation claim this week closes the case at the District Court level, as all other claims had been dismissed or withdrawn by Thoma. Any continuing legal action would take place at the appellate level.
Thoma is now police chief in Baudette, Minn., where city officials said in February they were pleased with his performance and that he was candid about his issues in Spokane prior to his hiring.