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Fired for using cut-&-paste, settles for $1.65 million

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  • Fired for using cut-&-paste, settles for $1.65 million

    'VANCOUVER -- Vancouver has agreed to pay a former police officer $1.65 million to settle a federal lawsuit he filed two years ago claiming his 2006 firing for making errors in reports was motivated by retaliation and racial discrimination.

    Navin K. Sharma and the city reached the settlement during a mandatory mediation session Thursday, six weeks before the case was set for trial in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. The agreement -- which Sharma's attorneys called the Northwest's largest-ever individual settlement for employment discrimination -- was announced Tuesday.

    In the settlement, the city admitted no wrongdoing, said Edwin A. Harnden, the Portland attorney who represented Vancouver. But faced with the possibility of at least $1.2 million in attorneys' fees and a trial that would keep police officers in a courtroom for two or three weeks instead of on the street, the settlement was an economic decision, he said.

    Attorneys for the India-born Sharma -- Gregory D. Ferguson of Vancouver and Scott C. G. Blankenship of Seattle -- called it the "hardest-fought" case in their combined 30-year careers. Money aside, the settlement restores Sharma's integrity, reputation and ability to work in law enforcement, elements that were crucial to any pretrial agreement, they said during a news conference.

    "I think we got him justice," Blankenship said, calling his client a "model police officer."

    An emotional Sharma said the settlement restores his dignity. He said he has been working as an emergency-room nurse in Portland, where he lives, but wants to return to police work.

    "Law enforcement has always been my dream career," said Sharma, 52. The most difficult challenge will be to convince an agency that he is who he is, not who he was accused of being, he said.

    Under the settlement, Sharma agreed not to seek employment with Vancouver, Harnden said.

    Sharma's September 2006 dismissal came after an eight-month internal affairs investigation into errors and the use of repetitive language in his drunken-driving arrest reports.

    Other traffic officers testified in depositions that they had made similar mistakes but were not disciplined and a Washington State Patrol investigator concluded the errors were nothing more than "a training issue," Ferguson said.

    In his dismissal letter to Sharma, then-Acting Chief Mitch Barker, who remains assistant chief, said Sharma violated department policies on making false statements, completing reports accurately, and being competent to do his job.

    After Sharma's firing, the city sent a letter to the Clark County prosecutor's office asking it to pursue criminal charges against him. Prosecutor Art Curtis said in a deposition that he did not file charges because the city had not done a criminal investigation as required and he did not think any crime had been committed, Ferguson and Blankenship said.

    Sharma's lawsuit named the city, Barker and City Manager Pat McDonnell as defendants. The settlement must be approved by the City Council; it has not been scheduled for a vote.

    Ferguson said he thinks the case could have far-reaching effects on how police officers and possibly other city employees are treated. It may also encourage any employee to report harassment or abuse, he said.

    "The most telling thing about this case was the support Officer Sharma had from his co-officers in the guild, the rank and file he worked with for eight years prior to being fired," Ferguson said.

    "If an officer, much less an officer of color, can be this vulnerable to being terminated for something so petty as cut-and-paste errors in his DUI reports, no officer, no officer in this city could feel comfortable with his career and with the ability to support his or her family without consistency in the way the rules are applied," Ferguson said.

    Had the case gone to trial, at least 30 police officers and five to 10 former city attorney's office employees were ready to testify for Sharma, Ferguson said.

    Court documents outline "an eight-year vendetta toward Sharma that began with race discrimination allegations" he lodged against the city in a 2000 federal lawsuit, Sharma's attorneys said in a prepared statement.

    In a 2001 settlement, the city admitted no wrongdoing but paid Sharma, who had never been disciplined, $287,000. He stayed on the job, turning down an additional $200,000 if he resigned within four years, until his firing Sept. 20, 2006.

    Blankenship said he hopes the settlement would lead to a Police Department citizens review panel to monitor internal affairs investigations and the discipline of officers.

    McDonnell said he would review the case and "look at a number of things that may or may not need to be changed." Areas of focus will include communication, documentation and training.

    "I'll use it to learn," he said.

    -- Holley Gilbert; [email protected]

  • #2
    Good for him, and good luck to him with getting back into law enforcement.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Seventy2002 View Post
      Had the case gone to trial, at least 30 police officers and five to 10 former city attorney's office employees were ready to testify for Sharma, Ferguson said.
      What does that tell ya? I recall cutting and pasting a few times myself... Even copied directly out of the KS State Statute hand reference...

      Repetitive language on DUI reports? Jee-golly, Beav! We'd better investigate! I was under the impression the "S" in SFST was for "standardized".

      Bad thing is, if he returns to an agency close to Vancouver, nutjobs on the street that learn about this will pin him for bogus IA complaints and lawsuits.
      Last edited by 1two9; 09-11-2008, 04:51 PM.
      "...I'm gonna' ride that one-legged pony to baloney town..."

      "I just assume most people are half-retarded, and it's my job to remind 'em."

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by 1two9 View Post
        Repetitive language on DUI reports? Jee-golly, Beav! We'd better investigate! I was under the impression the "S" in SFST was for "standardized".
        That's what I thought. If the same thing happened, why does he have to find a different way to describe it in his report?

        But it is not really fair for us to make a decision without knowing what he was copying/pasting and what the errors were.

        If he was pasting "the subject was an african-american male, approximately 6 feet tall and 200 pounds" into every report no matter who it was about, obviously there would be need for concern.

        But if he was pasting "the subject's speech was slurred and he failed to follow my finger with his eyes" then there is no problem.

        Comment


        • #5
          Detailed Article

          Detailed article here:
          http://wweek.com/editorial/3438/11316/

          Unfortunate story. Good outcome IMHO.
          Last edited by pdxguy; 09-11-2008, 06:09 PM.

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