Fired policeman sues city of DuPont

The News Tribune January 30, 2007 

A former DuPont police sergeant fired after a misconduct investigation has sued the city.

Patrick Murphy says in his lawsuit that the south Pierce County city violated its labor contract and defamed him when it released an investigation report to the public in 2003.

The report says he made threats while handling his service revolver, among other findings.

The lawsuit claims the report was not factual and that after it was released, Murphy had to sell his DuPont home and had trouble finding another police job. He said he suffered emotional harm as well as lost wages and benefits.

City Administrator Bill McDonald rejected Murphy's allegations.

"His interpretation of what happened is not tracking on reality," McDonald said.

Murphy now works as a police officer in Brier in Snohomish County, a city about the size of DuPont. He didn't return a telephone call for comment.

An outside investigation, conducted by the Lacey Police Department in 2003, found that Murphy engaged in inappropriate and potentially dangerous conduct and violated DuPont law enforcement policies.

Damages claim

Rod Moody, an attorney representing Murphy, filed suit in Pierce County Superior Court this month. About two months earlier, Murphy submitted a related claim for damages of $500,000. The city did not respond.

The lawsuit contains no dollar estimate and says damages will be proved at trial.

Murphy went to work in DuPont in 1997 after serving five years on Steilacoom's police force. He was later promoted to sergeant in DuPont.

DuPont Police Chief Michael Pohl fired Murphy in 2003. The outside investigation found that Murphy threatened officers while handling his service revolver.

Several times he stated "I'll shoot you" to a subordinate officer while handling his weapon, the report says.

Murphy conceded he made the comment but said it was a joke. Sometimes he would point an unloaded gun at objects in his office, he acknowledged, but he said it was practice. He served as the department's firearms instructor.

A reserve officer said Murphy once threatened him while holding a handgun, the report says.

Murphy also avoided requests for help from the public, according to the report, such as hiding and refusing to answer the door several times when residents tried to contact the Police Department.

In a 2004 follow-up investigation, obtained by The News Tribune, private attorney Eileen Lawrence said Murphy's own admissions to some acts of misconduct backed up the Lacey police findings.

She noted that investigators found that Murphy:

n Altered access to police files and databases to undermine the duties assigned to another officer.

n Conducted personal business on city time.

n Misused his authority as a superior officer by requesting personal loans from several officers and delayed repayment or failed to repay.

Lawrence said the city had to fire Murphy "based on the evidence of such serious misconduct and dereliction of duty."

In his lawsuit, however, Murphy said the Lacey investigation was "deficient." As an example, he said he wasn't on duty at the time he was accused of refusing assistance at an automobile accident on Interstate 5.

He said the city of DuPont released the investigation report to embarrass him and make it difficult to find new employment.

The lawsuit alleges the city violated its labor contract by firing Murphy without just cause and without progressive discipline.

DuPont has released a three-year-old investigative report about whether the mayor and some other elected officials knew about a former police sergeant's suspected misbehavior on the job.

After Lacey police looked into the conduct of officer Patrick Murphy in 2003, the city asked for a second investigation by a private attorney to learn whether Mayor Steve Young or other officials were aware of Murphy's behavior before he was fired.

Lawrence reviewed the first investigation and then interviewed Young and three other elected officials. They said they didn't observe or know about Murphy's behavior until later, when the sergeant lost his job.

Some witnesses and officers participating in the Lacey police investigation had mentioned that Young and at least one other DuPont council member might have been aware of issues with Murphy's behavior before he was fired.

Young and Murphy were friends. Young served as a reserve DuPont police officer while Murphy was there.

But Lawrence said it appeared people's comments about prior knowledge "were nothing more than rumors or speculative concerns."

Mayor Young called for the second investigation but withheld the results from the public in mid-2004. The city cited attorney-client privilege as the reason for denying a News Tribune request for the document. Officials feared that Murphy, who was fired in 2003, might try to use the findings in a lawsuit to get his job back.

Murphy sued the city for damages this month.

The News Tribune again requested a copy of the report, and the city released it after blacking out a small portion. The city determined that case law had changed and the document had to be released, City Administrator Bill McDonald said.

Young told Lawrence he didn't know about the investigation of Murphy until the sergeant was placed on leave and Young read the Lacey police report. He said he heard a rumor that he was going to make Murphy police chief if he were elected mayor. He said he told Police Chief Michael Pohl there was nothing to it.

The Murphy investigation began while Penny Drost was still mayor of DuPont, Lawrence said. Drost approved the firing of Murphy before she left office.

Murphy appealed when Young was mayor, but Young let McDonald handle it as city administrator, Lawrence said. McDonald upheld the dismissal. Lawrence also interviewed three council members and found that none had observed any misconduct by Murphy.

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