Lakewood police have settled a wrongful-termination lawsuit by a former police-union chief, who was fired after another union official stole from a memorial fund set up for the department’s four slain officers.
The Lakewood Police Department has agreed to pay $150,000 to its former police-union president to settle a federal lawsuit alleging he was wrongfully fired because of his association with Skeeter Timothy Manos, the former Lakewood officer who stole more than $100,000 from a fund for the families of four officers killed by a gunman in 2009.
Former Lakewood Officer Brian Wurts had sued the department in 2014 after he was placed on leave by Police Chief Brett Farrar the day that Manos, the union’s secretary/treasurer, was arrested for embezzling from the memorial fund and the union.
According to the lawsuit, the department claimed that Wurts knew about the thefts but failed to act. In the meantime, Wurts claims, four additional internal investigations were opened into his conduct, including allegations that he left the state while on paid leave, in defiance of department policy, and that he had sex with another officer while on duty.
He was terminated in December 2012. Farrar, in a letter of termination, said the investigations had “supported the conclusion that [Wurts’] conduct facilitated the theft and fraud committed by Skeeter Manos.”
Most Read Local Stories
- Are your neighbors getting vaccinated against COVID-19? Take an area-by-area look in King County
- Even with vaccines, COVID will always be with us; here's why
- Coronavirus daily news updates, May 10: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- Here are the top contenders in the 2021 Seattle mayoral race
- Warm, sunny, sneezy weather ahead in Seattle area
The officers’ fund was created after Maurice Clemmons fatally shot police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Gregory Richards as they sat in a coffee shop in Parkland, Pierce County, on Nov. 29, 2009. Clemmons was killed by a Seattle police officer two days later.
Wurts alleged in his lawsuit that he was targeted for his union activities, for his vocal criticism of city and police officials, and because he is gay.
However, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle, in a pretrial order, dismissed the claim of sexual-orientation discrimination, saying that not only had Wurts failed to prove the allegation but that he had not met the procedural requirements to pursue it in federal court.
The case was poised to go to trial in U.S. District Court in Tacoma when it was settled last week. The judge had ordered Manos, who is serving a three-year federal prison term, to be transported to the courtroom as a witness.
Wurts’ attorney, Douglas McDermott, declined to comment on the settlement, as did Lakewood Assistant Police Chief Mike Zaro. The Pierce County city and Wurts, while acknowledging in the settlement that the document is public, agreed in writing that neither side would “initiate disclosure” of the settlement.
“If asked about the settlement, Wurts and the city agree to comment that the lawsuit was settled on terms that both sides considered fair,” according to a copy provided by the law firm representing the city.
Wurts was hired by the department in 2004 and had received exemplary reviews as an officer. He joined the Lakewood Police Independent Guild board and was elected guild president in 2006.
Settle had allowed the lawsuit to go forward on the allegation that Wurts’ had been terminated because of his union activities and his criticism of police and city officials in that role.
“While there is evidence that Wurts’ friendship with Manos could have clouded his judgment, this is not the only conclusion that a reasonable juror could make,” Settle wrote. “For example, a reasonable juror could conclude that the city was motivated by the opportunity to terminate a union president who openly criticized the city’s management.”
In that vein, Settle also said he would let Wurts pursue a claim based on alleged violations of his First Amendment right to speak out on issues of public concern.
”At the very least, Wurts lobbied on behalf of the entire police force for across-the-board raises and identified allegedly overpaid city administrators,” the judge said.
The city had countersued Wurts, alleging fraud and unjust enrichment. Those claims were also dismissed as part of the settlement.