by Jacob Jones
Under pressure from a recently filed $750,000 damage claim, the City of Spokane today released details of a $190,000 settlement with former Assistant Police Chief Scott Stephens over alleged threats and disciplinary actions from last December.
Mayor David Condon told reporters this afternoon the city had worked with police officials, investigators and Stephens to negotiate a settlement that was "fair for all," avoiding a potential lawsuit.
"I believe that the settlement that we have come to really takes into concern all of the parties," Condon says. "I think it is one that is fair."
Stephens will resign from the police department as part of the agreement. His $190,000 settlement is equivalent to about a year of salary and benefits at the rank of assistant chief. Condon says the figure was negotiated based on several legal issues and considerations.
Stephens, a 28-year veteran of the department, previously served as interim police chief for several months in 2012. As part of a personnel restructuring under new Police Chief Frank Straub in December, Stephens was demoted from assistant chief to captain.
Straub placed Stephens on administrative leave on Dec. 20 after a coworker reported Stephens had made threatening statements in response to his demotion. Officials report Stephens denied making any threat, saying he was misunderstood while "venting" about the demotion.
Retired federal Judge Michael Hogan, brought in by the city to investigate the circumstances leading to Stephens' administrative leave, released a 1.5-page report through the Mayor's Office today outlining his findings in the case. He reports the dispute started over an emotional conversation Stephens had with a coworker on Dec. 19.
"During the conversation, when both parties agree Stephens was 'venting,' Stephens made statements, according to his colleague, to the effect that he did not think anyone would blame him if he took action, which his colleague perceived to be violent action, because of the way he had been treated."
The report states Straub and his command staff decided to have a captain who was close with Stephens call to ask about how he was doing.
"The captain who made that call reported that Stephens seemed to be fine," the report states, "but that he did make at least one remark that appeared to confirm the concerns of the colleague who had previously spoken with Stephens."
Straub confronted Stephens the following day at which point Stephens maintained any perceived threat was mistaken or taken out of context, saying "he would never be a threat to himself or others."
The chief then placed Stephens on administrative leave, effective immediately.
"The chief [also] requested that he immediately seek counseling and determination that he was fit for duty," the report states. "Stephens did so, and did receive clearance as being fit for duty."
Stephens contacted an attorney, arguing the administrative leave had tarnished his reputation as the administration allegedly tried to force him out of the department.
Through his attorney, Bob Dunn, Stephens filed a damage claim April 16 seeking $750,000. He claimed violations of his First Amendment rights, invasion of privacy, wrongful termination and emotional distress.
Hogan concluded in his report that Straub and other police officials "reacted appropriately given the nature of the perceived threat."
The judge also found Stephens had made threatening statements, but that they should be balanced with appropriate context and a consideration of his long public service.
"The finder of fact believes that such statements were made; however, taken in the context of the events of the day and the colleague to whom Stephens was speaking, there is consideration that should be given, even though such statements are arguably actionable."
Condon says the settlement will not impact the city's insurance rates because the city self-insures. He acknowledged frustration with the length of the dispute, but argued officials needed time to go through the proper process.
"It does take time," he says. "As we've noticed in the past, if you don't do things with a deliberate approach, with a purposeful method, these cases can be much worse."
Officials say the settlement concludes any investigations.