Ousted Spokane police Chief Frank Straub filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the city of Spokane, Mayor David Condon, City Administrator Theresa Sanders and City Attorney Nancy Isserlis, claiming his civil rights were violated when he was forced to resign last September.
The suit, filed by attorney Mary Schultz, argues that Condon and his administrators made “a series of contrived and uninvestigated accusations” against Straub, “which included stigmatizing and inaccurate accusations of ‘untruthfulness,’ unfitness, and implied immorality.”
The lawsuit was expected; Straub previously filed a $4 million claim against the city in the matter.
The suit goes into detail about relations between Straub and Monique Cotton, who accused Straub of sexual harassment last April in a meeting with Condon. Cotton resigned from the city Monday and is considering filing a claim against the city, according to her attorney, Bob Dunn.
Straub’s forced resignation – which originally was referred to by Condon as a mutual decision – has engulfed City Hall in controversy. Sanders was found to have violated the city’s ethics code barring dishonesty; a parks spokeswoman who claims that Cotton’s new job effectively pushed her aside has filed a claim against the city for age discrimination and violating the federal medical leave act; and the city’s ethics commission has taken up complaints lodged against Condon by former Council President Joe Shogan and the National Organization for Women.
Relations between Council President Ben Stuckart and Condon have deteriorated to the point where they no longer directly communicate. Condon recently hired a former campaign worker, Tyler Whitney, whose sole role is to communicate with the City Council.
An outside investigation by a former federal prosecutor, Kris Cappel, is ongoing. According to Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, Cappel has begun reviewing documents and will begin scheduling investigative interviews in the coming weeks. Cappel’s contract with the city says she will provide a report within 90 days of beginning her investigation. Coddington said the report should be finished in early April.
Now, with Straub’s suit, the controversy emanating from the Police Department may enter the courts.
According to Straub’s suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington, Sanders and Isserlis “consistently failed to support Chief Straub’s managerial decisions to remove and/or transfer certain individuals” who Straub thought were “cancerous” to the department. Such “overt lack of administrative support” allowed factions to remain in conflict within the department, the suit says.
In early 2014, those factions took aim at Cotton, and Straub “requested an investigation” into claims of dishonesty against Cotton, which was done by the city’s Human Resources Department. Cotton also accused Capt. Dan Torok and Lt. Joe Walker of “bullying, harassment and hostile work environment,” but no disciplinary action was taken, the suit says.
In late 2014, Straub said he asked to have Cotton transferred out of the Police Department “as she was causing difficulty within his department.” The suit says that Cotton was moved to City Hall in an unspecified position, but that transfer lasted just a month before she returned to the Police Department.
In April, after a contentious meeting between Straub and other department personnel, Cotton told Condon and Sanders that Straub had “grabbed her ass, tried to kiss her,” according to notes taken by Sanders. Straub said he was told she made “unspecified harassment claims” against him, but was “not allowed to see the specific complaints being made by employee Cotton, nor any letters and/or work product, investigative notes” or other material related to Cotton’s claims.
Straub demanded an investigation into Cotton’s accusations, but Condon and his top administrators “collectively refused to investigate,” his lawsuit says.
After Cotton was transferred to the Parks Department as a spokeswoman, Straub’s suit claims the mayor told Straub that Cotton was now causing him “difficulty.”
On Sept. 21, Condon and Sanders met with Straub and told him he was being “discharged” and demanded he submit his resignation. Straub again asked for an investigation into the matter, but Condon and Sanders refused, the suit says.
At a news conference announcing Straub’s ouster, Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, handed out what the suit describes as “two stigmatizing letters” from the Lieutenants and Captains Association detailing allegations about Straub’s behavior. The suit says the “letters’ form, content, and writing” show “collusion” between Condon, Sanders, Isserlis and the police leadership association.
The suit says that Condon and his administrators’ “public accusations of dishonesty, abusiveness, hostile work environment, and sexual harassment are false and defamatory.” It states that Straub “has suffered permanent and irreparable damage in the form of loss of reputation, status, standing and association, gainful employment, income, and the opportunity for future gainful employment in his field and at his level of expertise, as well as pain and suffering and emotional distress.”
Asked for comment, Coddington said the city was aware of the suit and it “will be addressed as part of the court process.”
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