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Fired Santa Rosa police captain wins round in federal court

Jamie Mitchel

By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A former Santa Rosa police captain whose four-year wrongful termination suit so far has cost the city nearly $1 million has won a round in federal court.

A U.S. District Court judge in 2010 dismissed Jamie Mitchel’s lawsuit against the city and ordered him to pay $32,000 toward the city’s legal bills.

But Mitchel appealed that decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Last week, a three-judge panel ruled partially in his favor, sending the case back for further hearings.

Mitchel called it “refreshing” to have a decision break his way after so many years of legal setbacks.

“This is a clear win for me. This is huge,” Mitchel said.

Mitchel, 57, was fired in May 2008 during a tumultuous period for the Police Department. Several employees filed complaints with the city alleging gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation by then-police Chief Ed Flint. All four complaints named Flint and two named Mitchel, Flint’s second-in-command.

The city paid the six complainants a total of more than $120,000 to resolve their grievances. Flint was forced out and given $97,000 in severance. He is now the police chief of Atherton. Mitchel was fired and has said the only thing he got from the city was “a kick in the butt.” He hasn’t worked in law enforcement since.

In his suit, Mitchel claimed he was improperly dismissed, his privacy rights were violated, he was discriminated against because he is a white man and that his arbitration hearing was improperly handled.

In its ruling, the 9th Circuit rejected most of Mitchel’s arguments, but was sympathetic to others.

It found that the District Court Judge Susan Illston improperly ordered Mitchel to pay some of the city’s costs. It also found the lower court erred when it rejected two other claims: that he was denied access to key city documents before arbitration, and that the arbitration panel refused to consider whether rights afforded to him as a public safety officer were violated.

City Attorney Caroline Fowler was on vacation Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. In court filings, the city has previously characterized Mitchel’s lawsuit as “meritless” and “absurd.”

Of the findings, Mitchel said he is most heartened by the ruling regarding his access to city documents, which he claims will prove he was unfairly ousted.

“They don’t want the fact out that I was the scapegoat,” Mitchel said.

Mitchel, who said he is “near bankruptcy” because of the case, works part time at a continuation school in Healdsburg. He receives retirement from the County of Sacramento, where worked in the Sheriff’s Department before he was recruited in 2005 by Flint.

He declined to say how much he has spent on the case to date, but two years ago acknowledged legal bills of nearly $400,000.

Mitchel said he doesn’t expect to be allowed to get his old job back, but would take it back “in a heartbeat” if he could. In the meantime, he said, he’ll press on with his case because he knows he did nothing wrong.

“I will not go away,” he said.





14 Responses to “Fired Santa Rosa police captain wins round in federal court”

  1. Chicken little with an ax to grind says:

    Is it just me or are some posts getting repetative and vindictive? Just sayin…

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. Reality Check says:

    Money Grubber,

    You seem to overlook the fact that the city is defending itself against a lawsuit by the former employee. What would you have it do? Not defend itself.

    If it doesn’t, the employee wins the lawsuit by default. If it does, there are unavoidable expenses.

    It sounds attractive to believe employers, in this case taxpayers, shouldn’t have to assume liability for the conduct of employees, but they do. And since the city’s pockets are a lot deeper than any individual’s, juries aren’t going to buy your arguemnt in tort cases like this.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  3. Money Grubber says:

    Reality Check:

    To further rebut your public employee beliefs:

    Even an insurance company should not have to pay out money on behalf of any government entity due to misconduct by a public employee.

    The public employee was the one engaged in misconduct and that is the one who should have to pay the costs and damages to the taxpayers.

    Government relies upon insurance pay outs to shield itself from being held accountable.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  4. Money Grubber says:

    Realty Check:

    ANY public employee who causes financial damage through misconduct to the taxpayer should have to pay those damages out of pocket.

    Not just a cop.

    Losing a public job does not, by itself, make the taxpayer whole.

    With regard to the case of Santa Rosa, someone on the public payroll screwed up. And that someone, whichever side it was, should be identified and held financially accountable.

    Why should taxpayers have to pay one million dollars because the cop or the city staff engaged in misconduct ?

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7

  5. Graeme Wellington says:

    He probably won because of the statutes in California that determine punitive damages. He can only be held personally liable for punitive damages and the employer is on the line for the rest. Obviously the article does not provide the full facts and details to decide or resolve the issue. Usual Press Democrat technique.

    The one thing that would help address so many issues with police is if somehow the police chief had the power and authority to promote, demote, hire and fire any officer or subordinate on his own judgment – subject to some kind of city council review to override arbitrary decisions.

    California’s laws relating to police employment probably need a complete top to bottom re-write. It’s obviously become too much of a shield for bad cops and too much of a sword to control and punish good cops trying to make a difference, but bucking their inflexible leadership.

    Likewise, the public doesn’t want to be held hostage to unsustainable compensations and benefit packages.

    You’d think one of these ambitious politicians trying to get elected to higher office would write the new laws for the future of law enforcement and write his own ticket – for everyone’s future. I’m not too confident of that. Who is John Galt?

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  6. bill says:

    when a cop goes against the system you know the system is imperfect…cops are the system.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  7. Reality Check says:

    “The public employee cop should pay the financial court award out of his / her personal assets.”

    Given the litigious times we live in, no sane person would become a police officer.

    In many of these cases, the city settles just to settle, not because they believe the cop has done anything wrong. Expecting individual cops to accept that risk is not an idea likely to get very far.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

  8. Jim says:

    The level of corruption in the SRPD is high so it is difficult for me to believe that the termination wasn’t justified. recently there was a detective fired for lying to Internal Affairs. The Press refused to publish the story. Yet, this same detective sat on the stand over and over against defendants. How can a liar have any credibility? Because the media refused to report about the liar’s conduct.

    There is still a detective employed by SRPD that was involved in the fired detective’s shenanigans but again, no report of it. Just hope you don’t get arrested in Santa Rosa because the system is corrupt.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 6

  9. Reality Check says:

    Why has this cost the city almost $1 million in, presumably, attorney fees? Does not the city have liability insurance against this sort of suit?

    In any case, if the city concluded that an employee was in fact guilty of illegal treatment of another employee, what choice do they have but to terminate the person? And defend themselves against a lawsuit?

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  10. Money Grubber says:

    John:

    Some public employee caused the problem.

    Either the city improperly terminated his employment, or he caused his own termination and has wasted public dollars by forcing the city to defend.

    Whichever party is deemed to be the cause of the litigation should have to pay. Not the taxpayers.

    Hard to comprehend? You must be a public employee.

    The same concept applies to police work in general. How many cases of police misconduct does the public see in the news? A lot. How many of those cases are resolved where the taxpayer is forced to foot the cost on behalf of the guilty cop? 100% of those police misconduct cases. Solution? The public employee cop should pay the financial court award out of his / her personal assets.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  11. John says:

    @ Money Grubber – What do you propose should have happened in this case? The terminated employee is the one filing the lawsuit not the city. Do you know the history behind this case? If not you shouldn’t use this article to speak about government waste. Unless you are suggesting the employee was wrongfully terminated which both courts have ruled he was properly let go.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4

  12. Joseph Donegan says:

    This is a good man, I hope he prevails, asking people to do their jobs is no cause for termination. This locals only attitude is a little absurd at times like these.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  13. Money Grubber says:

    To add to my previous post, there is always one or two people responsible for any problem.

    The one or two public employees who are responsible for loss of one million tax dollars should be identified and given a choice: pay the amount out of their own assets or resign.

    But, of course, public employees scoff at the mere notion of being forced to pay for their mistakes out of their own pocket.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 13

  14. Money Grubber says:

    The lawsuit has cost the city of santa rosa one million dollars ?

    And, I recall, that the city of santa rosa also lost lots of money in another court action where they attempted to (unsuccessfully) defend their illegal attempt to force developers into agreements in exchange for building permits.

    Just another example of how the local government wastes our money and the people who created the problem are allowed to continue employment in government just the same.

    Government = zero accountability.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 9

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