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Former police Chief Frank Straub files $4 million claim against city, alleges violation of due process

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 8, 2015

FILE – Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub answers questions about the arrest of murder suspect Timothy E. Suckow during a press briefing, Jan. 14, 2014 at the Public Saftey Building. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE – Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub answers questions about the arrest of murder suspect Timothy E. Suckow during a press briefing, Jan. 14, 2014 at the Public Saftey Building. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Former Spokane police Chief Frank Straub filed a $4 million claim against the city Thursday, alleging a “violation of due process in termination.”

Straub was forced to resign late last month following complaints about his leadership style. His sudden ouster as chief followed months of rumors about his explosive behavior, as well as reports about personnel moves involving two women who were transferred out of the police department.

In his claim, Straub denies that he resigned. The demand letter from his attorney, Mary Schultz, states again and again that Straub was “fired.”

“You fired Chief Straub,” the letter states. “His termination was already fact. … You had already buried him as the police chief.”

Although he had lost the confidence of Mayor David Condon and is pursuing a multi-million dollar claim against the city, Straub remains employed as the highest paid city worker. He was reassigned to work in the city attorney’s office “during the transition period to ensure the continuity of important strategic initiatives,” the city said in the news release last month announcing Straub’s departure.

Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, said he couldn’t discuss the claim.

“The city did receive a claim today,” he said. “As it’s pending litigation, this is nothing we can discuss.”

Asked if he knew the claim was coming when Straub was ousted, Coddington said, “I really can’t get into that.”

Mayor David Condon, in a statement released Thursday evening, called the claim “unfortunate” and reiterated that Straub resigned.

“This is unfortunate as we would like to move the Spokane Police Division forward without distraction,” Condon said.

City Council President Ben Stuckart also said he wouldn’t talk about the claim.

“I can’t comment. I haven’t had a chance to review it, and I was a participant in some of the conversations so will probably be involved in some of the legal proceedings,” Stuckart said. “My understanding is Cabinet positions such as police chief serve at the pleasure of the mayor.”

The claim is a precursor to a lawsuit. Once the city rejects it, Straub can take his case to court.

Straub took issue with the “gratuitous public dissemination of very damaging letters,” referring to letters handed out during Condon’s news conference announcing his removal as police chief. One letter, from the Lieutenants and Captains Association cited personal attacks, emotional outbursts, scare tactics, threats, retaliation, inappropriate language and untruthfulness as examples of Straub’s behavior. Straub has denied those accusations.

“Frank Straub was an at-will employee with a three-year contract,” Schultz said. “He could’ve been discharged for any reason, or none at all. The problem isn’t that it was done. It was the way it was done.”

An attempt to reach Straub was unsuccessful Thursday afternoon.

The claim letter states that on Sept. 21, City Administrator Theresa Sanders texted Straub at 6:39 a.m. and told him to “report to the Mayor for a 7:00 a.m. ‘meeting’ of unannounced content.”

At that meeting, Straub was told of his termination, the letter says. He asked for an investigation into the reasons for his termination and was denied.

The following day, nearly 30 hours after Straub said he was told he was fired, Coddington denied any knowledge of the situation to the Spokesman-Review.

“I have not heard that,” he said just after 1 p.m. on Sept. 22. “I don’t believe that’s accurate.”

But during that day, the letter says, Straub attempted to prevent city officials from releasing a press statement announcing his resignation. But by 3:51 p.m., he was “unable to obtain any retraction of the disparaging information,” the letter says, adding that the city was “bludgeoning” him with the press release.

At 4:07 p.m., city officials texted Straub and told him the press release would be sent out “in five minutes.”

“Frank Straub was fired,” the letter from Straub’s lawyer states. “He was removed from the City website, and Rick Dobrow was out doing interviews as the new police chief before Frank was even able to turn in his badge.”

After Straub’s ouster, Sanders and Coddington said the decision to remove Straub came moments before a press statement was released after 4:30 p.m. The claim letter rebuts that timeline.

As Straub’s lawyer, Schultz was told by the city that the ousted chief has no civil service protections and can be fired at will. Schultz demanded proof of Straub’s alleged explosive behavior, but was rebuffed.

“From both a legal and a plain common sense perspective, what those letters should have triggered was not a need to fire the Chief; what they should have triggered was the need for your Department to find out who was promoting mutiny in that police department and why.”

The suit also suggests that the forced resignation was related to Condon’s re-election.

“These actions show a premeditated and engineered plan to elevate the mayor’s ‘decisiveness’ quality at the expense of Frank Straub’s reputation,” the claim read. “It’s a very interesting time of year.”

Finally, the claim suggests that Straub simply was doing what he was told to do by the mayor, who then turned his back on the chief after an “engineered process” to get him fired was put in place.

“The Mayor hired him to wade in and the Mayor mandated him to wade in,” the suit said. “Once he was in, City administration undercut his authority, coddled mutiny, and subversively managed cancerous factions to its own perceived advantage. This was an engineered process designed to damage Frank Straub and enhance the mayor’s standing.”

The man who served as chief previous to Straub, Scott Stephens, won a $190,000 settlement with the city in 2013. Stephens was an interim chief, and had served as assistant chief to Straub after Straub was selected to lead the department in 2012.

A few months later, after Straub told Stephens that he would demote him, Stephens allegedly made threats. Stephens denied the accusations, and his attorney, Bob Dunn, accused the city of using a false allegation to ruin Stephens’ reputation to force him out of the department. Stephens filed a claim against the city for $750,000.

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