A former police officer claims the Coeur d’Alene police chief forced him out of his career through a period of harassment after he refused to lie to an investigator.
Lee Brainard’s attorneys, in a lawsuit filed against the city of Coeur d’Alene on Feb. 15 in U.S. District Court in Idaho, said he was physically ill from the stress of the claimed retaliation and, ultimately, took an early retirement out of desperation, despite a resulting financial loss.
Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said Thursday that he denies all the allegations and characterizations of his conduct in the lawsuit, but cannot speak to specifics of pending litigation.
“I can say it’s a bit of a shame that someone who imagined some slight can file a lawsuit and drag us down this path,” White said. “The good thing is, ultimately, all these things get to see the light of day in a courtroom and the truth comes out.”
Around October or November 2019, Brainard, employed by Coeur d’Alene Police Department for 25 years, was required to testify in an internal investigation conducted by the police department, the lawsuit alleges.
White said he could not disclose the topic of that investigation but is aware of the inquiry the lawsuit refers to.
“Again, he’s completely mischaracterized it,” White said.
According to the suit, police Capt. Dave Hagar told Brainard to hide his knowledge of Hagar’s audio recordings of certain city meetings.
Brainard told Hagar he would be truthful to the investigator and he was, the lawsuit said.
When the investigation was complete, Hagar and White expressed anger and disappointment because of the investigation’s result, according to the suit.
What followed was 10 months of retaliation, the lawsuit alleges.
Brainard said White placed him on a “performance improvement plan,” excluded Brainard from department meetings he had always attended, encouraged Brainard to take an early retirement several times and was asking officers about “disparaging information” White might be able to use against Brainard, according to the lawsuit.
Brainard “continuously” discussed the alleged retaliation with city officials, including Mayor Steve Widmyer, Human Relations Director Melissa Tosi, city administrator Troy Tymesen, city attorney Mike Gridley and deputy city attorney Randy Adams, the lawsuit said.
After an internal investigation corroborated Brainard’s complaints, the city officials told Brainard that White would be fired during a City Council meeting, but during that meeting, he was not fired, according to the lawsuit.
Then, in August , Brainard decided to retire early, despite the financial loss that would come from ending his career five or six years earlier than he had intended.
The lawsuit claims the city violated federal laws surrounding due process and breach of contract, as well as several state laws, including one that protects whistle-blowers from retaliation.
Brainard hopes to win compensatory damages from the city to account for his projected future loss of income, benefits he lost through retirement and other losses related to emotional distress and his wife’s loss of companionship during her husband’s period of stress, the lawsuit said.
Gridley said the city has forwarded the lawsuit to the city’s insurance carrier, Idaho Counties Risk Management, for review and handling.
“We have been instructed by legal counsel not to comment on this pending litigation at this time,” Gridley said.
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