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Sunday, March 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ex-Spokane police chief believes ouster was engineered, new filing says

Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub briefs the media about the officer-involved shooting, July 27, 2015, near the Peking North Chinese restaurant. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub briefs the media about the officer-involved shooting, July 27, 2015, near the Peking North Chinese restaurant. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The day he lost his job as Spokane’s police chief, Frank Straub sat down for an early-morning meeting with city officials at Perkins restaurant and was handed a manila envelope.

It’s unclear if Straub ate or even drank a cup of coffee, but after City Administrator Theresa Sanders and City Attorney Nancy Isserlis told him the reasons he was being forced from City Hall, he came to believe his ouster was a “premeditated and engineered plan” by Mayor David Condon to help in his re-election, according to new court documents filed by Straub and his attorney, Mary Schultz.

The new filings in his lawsuit also reveal that a city attorney offered Straub a “name clearing hearing” after he was fired.

The court documents, part of Straub’s lawsuit against the city, give some new details on the events leading to and following Straub’s ouster in September, but they keep to Straub’s contention that concerns about his behavior were not relayed to him, and the city didn’t properly investigate the accusations before firing him.

The documents were filed as a response to the city’s request to dismiss Straub’s lawsuit. The suit is scheduled for its first hearing in June.

Straub has sued the city, Condon, Isserlis and Sanders, and the latest documents reveal Straub’s perspective on the controversy engulfing the city since he was forced out.

He had been accused of sexually harassing his spokeswoman, Monique Cotton, and of launching into tirades that some of his top administrators said crossed the line into abusive management. Cotton was hurriedly transferred to a new city job, something she demanded with the backing of an attorney. She was given a communications position in the parks department. City officials denied for months that there were any troubles between Straub and Cotton, though the mayor knew of the allegations last April.

Condon has denied doing anything wrong and insists he was attempting to follow city policy and protect Cotton, who left her city job in February.

In documents filed Friday, Straub said he was unaware of any issues with his behavior or leadership until he returned from a family vacation Sept. 20, two days before he was fired. He acknowledged knowing about a meeting between his “executive staff” and Sanders, but she told him there were no issues that needed to be addressed.

On Sept. 21, his first day back from vacation, Straub received a text at 6:39 a.m. from Sanders, saying he had a 7 a.m. meeting with the mayor. Straub arrived at 7:50 a.m., after taking his daughter to day care.

The meeting took place in Sanders’ office, with Condon and Sanders.

Condon told Straub he had received a letter from the Lieutenants and Captains Association citing Straub’s “unprofessional behavior,” and asked for Straub’s resignation. In the new court filing, Straub said he was not allowed to see the letter, even after asking to do so multiple times. Sanders told him the letter claimed misconduct on his part “for a period of over nine months” with “specific dates, times, and persons involved” and was signed by “the whole association.”

Straub, who led the police and fire departments in Indianapolis before he came to Spokane, said Condon told him if he resigned Straub could keep his “reputation intact.” Sanders echoed Condon, according to the court documents, saying Straub had “rebuilt” his reputation “after Indianapolis.” The lawsuit claims Straub was told that if he didn’t, “it will be another Indianapolis.”

Straub resigned from his Indianapolis job after a tumultuous two-year tenure and a threatened vote of no confidence from the Indianapolis City-County Council.

In his lawsuit against his termination in Spokane, Straub said he realized he was being fired and “threatened with damage to my reputation.” He denied any misconduct or wrongdoing.

Though Straub said he was told that there were no other letters or complaints that prompted his ouster, he brought up Cotton’s allegations against him. City officials told him there was “no complaint from (Cotton) on file,” according to court documents.

Straub said he faced a decision: Either sign on their terms, or face a messy and public firing forcing him to “go through ‘Indianapolis all over again.’ ”

‘I had to leave Spokane with my family’

The following day, Straub met with Sanders and City Attorney Nancy Isserlis at the Perkins restaurant on Division Street at 8 a.m. Isserlis handed him a manila envelope containing two letters, one from the police Lieutenants and Captains Association and one from Straub’s executive team, both alleging misconduct on Straub’s part.

Straub had not yet seen the letter from his top staff, but in form and accusation, it echoed the one he had been told about a day earlier. The letters accused Straub of explosive behavior and lying, and Straub told Sanders and Isserlis the accusations weren’t true. He challenged Sanders for her previous day’s remarks, saying the letters contained no specific information and were “wildly general.”

Straub pushed to see more documentation. “Ms. Sanders interrupted me, got angry, and told me emphatically ‘again,’ that there would not be an investigation. She told me that ‘you need to resign – there is no reason to discuss this further,’ ” according to court documents.

Sanders told Straub he had until the afternoon to make his decision. News media would either be told he resigned or was fired for misconduct.

Straub left Perkins and went home. He spoke with his wife and called Rob Cossey, a criminal attorney.

At noon, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich called him and said reporters were calling him to chase down rumors of someone losing their job at City Hall.

At around 2 p.m., Straub received a draft of the news release about his departure. It said Straub had resigned but noted concerns raised by police leadership. It also said Straub wanted to leave the department to allow “for new energy and perspective.”

Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, asked Straub for a quick response.

“I have received calls from the media. The City Council is also receiving calls,” Coddington wrote in an email to Straub. “Please let me know your thoughts ASAP.”

For two hours, Straub pushed to get different language in the statement, to no avail. Straub asked to hold off on the statement, saying “it doesn’t read well.” He added, “The language in the new draft is even worse.”

The statement went out at 4:37 p.m., informing reporters of a news conference eight minutes later. At the conference, Coddington passed around copies of the letters detailing Straub’s alleged behavior. Straub said the “media blitz was immediate” and “spawned blogs, public commentary, speculation, derogatory opinions, discussion within multiple publications, online and in print.”

“I had to leave Spokane with my family because the way this was handled at publication was extraordinarily damaging,” the court document reads. “It inflamed all of the rumors that had earlier swirled regarding Indianapolis, and added new accusations. I couldn’t go out to dinner with my wife without being approached with someone’s opinion.”

Straub said he can’t find employment because of the controversy. Initial inquiries for a job are “all dropped with a quick visit to the internet.”

Plan was to elevate mayor’s ‘decisiveness quality,’ filing says

A week after his ouster, Assistant City Attorney Erin Jacobson offered Straub a “name clearing hearing,” but the details of such a hearing are not made clear. Straub said he asked for an investigation into the accusations when he first heard of them, and such a hearing after he was fired would be “meaningless.”

On Sept. 29, Jacobson acknowledged in an email the city’s “awareness of the due process requirements in this kind of public information release,” according to a letter written by Schultz, Straub’s attorney, to Isserlis and Jacobson.

“You are well aware that such processes were owed Frank Straub before the Mayor intentionally distributed these damning allegations for public consumption,” Schultz wrote. “These are now a permanent part of his record.”

Straub said the city’s “failure to investigate or to provide any name clearing before the damaging allegations were disseminated to the public was intentional and premeditated.”

Schultz echoes Straub’s accusation of a plan to fire him. In one email, she said Condon, Sanders, Isserlis and the city’s legal team “engineered this termination” and are “not immune from suit.”

In a letter written to Mike McMahon, who was hired by the city to represent it in the case, Schultz said the two letters used to fire Straub “were prepared by the administration itself.” Schultz does not explain why she believes that, but she wrote that “there is no case precedent wherein a City Mayor intentionally contrives, solicits and publicizes his own damaging letters about his Police Chief to further his own agenda.”

In another letter, Schultz suggested a theory for the “engineered plan.”

“These actions show a premeditated and engineered plan to elevate the mayor’s ‘decisiveness’ quality at the expense of Frank Straub’s reputation,” she wrote, noting the mayor was nearing his re-election bid. “It’s a very interesting time of year.”

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