Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Former police Chief Frank Straub files lawsuit against Mayor David Condon and his administration

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 9:23 AM

As promised, Spokane's former police chief filed a lawsuit against the City of Spokane, Mayor David Condon, City Administrator Theresa Sanders and City Attorney Nancy Isserlis in federal court Tuesday. Frank Straub's attorney, Mary Schultz, filed a $4 million claim against the city in October, which is a precursor to a lawsuit. 

The suit claims that Condon and his administration handcuffed Straub's efforts to reform the internal culture of the department, failed to investigate accusations of abuse and sexual harassment and smeared his name as he was shown the door. 

Straub was forced to resign last September, four days after Condon received letters from executive officers detailing an abusive, manipulative and retaliatory management style. Recently released public records show that Condon was actually aware of Straub's alleged behavior more than a year before he was finally cut loose. 

"The bottom line of this claim is that this is a city administration and a professional police department," Schultz says. "Frank Straub said those accusations needed to get investigated and that simply did not happen." 

Firing Straub without a chance to refute the accusations from police brass, in addition to claims that he sexually harassed his former spokeswoman, amounted to a violation of Straub's due process, Schultz says. 

"That's not the way that you handle any employee in any sphere, much less a public official," she says, adding that Straub did not sexually harass the former spokeswoman, Monique Cotton.

The lawsuit comes one day after Cotton resigned from her position in the Parks and Recreation Division. Cotton was transferred from the police department into parks after she accused Straub of grabbing her "ass" and making unwanted advances. Rather than investigate the matter, Condon and his administration agreed to give her a $9,000 raise and a new job last May. She is considering filing her own claim against the city, according to her attorney, Bob Dunn. 

In the meantime, Condon has other problems to worry about. 

• Since Straub left, Condon has faced several ethics complaints accusing him of lying to the public about his knowledge of Cotton's allegations. All but two — one from former City Council President Joe Shogan and one from the National Organization for Women — have been dismissed. 

• Sanders, Condon's top administrator, was pegged with an ethics violation of her own for lying about reasons for Cotton's transfer to parks. Originally, she told the media she was not aware of any issues between Cotton and Straub and that Cotton's raise was an "enticement." 

• Nancy Goodspeed, the former parks division spokeswoman, also filed a claim against the city for violation of the federal medical leave act, saying Cotton effectively pushed her out of City Hall. 

In the lawsuit, Schultz laid out a timeline of Straub's tenure, showing where she says the city messed up: 

• In late 2013 and early 2014, "cancerous factions" within the department lodged complaints of dishonesty against Cotton. Schultz declined to name who specifically is included in that clique, but added that "you have personal logs from some of them." She is assumedly referring to Lt. Joe Walker and Capt. Dan Torok's notes that give more details of Straub's leadership style. 

• Cotton then accused Walker and Torok of bullying, harassing and creating a hostile work environment. (The city's Human Resources department determined the claims of dishonesty against Cotton to be unfounded.)

• In late 2014, the suit says, Cotton was moved to City Hall at Straub's request, but was transferred back less than a month later. 

• March 31, 2015, Straub confronted Cotton, Lt. Mark Griffiths (who Cotton was reportedly dating at the time) and Capt. Eric Olsen about an issue with Griffiths' overtime in a profanity-laced tirade. 

• Days later, Cotton told Condon that Straub sexually harassed her. When Isserlis, the city attorney, told Straub about the accusation, he requested an investigation, but was never given specific details or allowed to see investigative notes, the suit claims. 

"Chief Straub told the Mayor that, regardless of perceived lack of merit, any and all claims of such nature are required to be investigated for the protection of all involved," according to Straub's suit. "The Defendants collectively refused to investigate." 

In December, Condon hired former federal prosecutor Kris Cappel to investigate the city's handling of the Straub debacle. Cappel's report is expected in April. 

When asked for clarification on assertions made in the lawsuit, city spokesman Brian Coddington said "the city is aware of the complaint. The matter will be addressed as part of the court process." 

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Mitch Ryals

Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.