Jeffrey Chen, fired three years ago as Medina’s police chief, lost his racial-discrimination lawsuit against the city in a U.S. District Court retrial Thursday.
But the jury’s verdict doesn’t necessarily mean his fight against the city has ended.
A previous jury had awarded $2 million to Chen, who alleged in the lawsuit that former City Manager Donna Hanson made racist comments to him before she launched an investigation to get him fired. A federal judge threw out the verdict, though, saying Chen’s lawyer had violated a pretrial order during court proceedings.
The city of Medina claimed Chen was fired because there was evidence he had forged memos, dismissed tickets, lied about looking through city email archives, and bought personal items with city money. Before that city investigation, state auditors had also scolded the city for not properly tracking $18,000 in purchases Chen made on his credit card.
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Attorney Stephanie Alexander, who represented the city, said Thursday evening that Chen’s allegations of racial discrimination were baseless. She said Chen lied when he claimed Hanson said, “I thought Chinese people were more patient than that.” Chen is of Chinese descent. In another situation, Chen claimed Hanson asked him, “You people eat turkey?” Alexander said the question was posed to an entire group of colleagues, one of whom was a vegan.
“There was no racial discrimination,” Alexander said after the verdict. “Donna Hanson is the utmost professional.”
Chen’s lawyer, Marianne Jones, had no comment on Thursday’s verdict. She also would not comment on whether Chen would appeal.
Jones told the jury in the retrial’s opening statements last week that Chen has not been able to find another law-enforcement job after being fired from Medina. The best job he’s been able to get, Jones said, is a middle-management job at Costco that pays $23.50 an hour.
“She set out to destroy him because she felt she needed to destroy him,” Jones said in her opening statements to a 12-person jury that included two people of color.
Hanson lost her job last year under a severance agreement with the City Council that included a year’s pay of $156,745 and $57,976 in retirement, deferred compensation and other benefits.
Chen was also investigated while he was a patrol officer for the Seattle Police Department. He was suspected of being reimbursed for a Las Vegas hotel room allegedly given to him for free. Chen left the department before the conclusion of the investigation, which was eventually dropped.