Former Tenino Police Chief John Hutchings, who was fired earlier this year, is planning to file a defamation lawsuit against the city for $850,000.
In June, an attorney for Hutchings submitted a tort claim, which is a prerequisite for initiating a lawsuit against a government entity. The claim gave the city a 60-day notice for litigation.
The claim is based on comments made by Tenino Mayor Bret Brodersen regarding Hutchings’ termination in March. In the tort claim, attorney Gregory Rhodes wrote that Hutchings has “suffered a loss of reputation and esteem” and that the statements by the mayor have “significantly curtailed and compromised Mr. Hutchings’ future earning capacity.”
“He has a great deal of respect and affection for the Tenino community and does not relish the prospect of initiating litigation against the city,” Rhodes wrote on behalf of Hutchings in an email to The Olympian. “However, he has been given no choice but to defend his reputation in this fashion.”
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Brodersen declined to comment on the tort claim, but said a lawsuit of that magnitude would deliver a “big hit” to the city’s finances.
The mayor told The Olympian that he stands by his decision to terminate Hutchings’ employment. Brodersen said he fired Hutchings because the former chief had worked extra hours, had hired a reserve officer without approval, and generally overstepped his authority.
The city also is on the hook for $86,462 that was paid to Hutchings during his tenure. Hutchings had retired from the Olympia Police Department before coming to Tenino in 2012. To keep his retirement benefits, Hutchings’ contract stipulated that he was limited to working 159.5 hours or less per month.
The $86,262 represents the pension payments Hutchings received. An audit by the state Department of Retirement Systems (DRS) found the city failed to report Hutchings’ retirement status and was therefore responsible for reimbursing that money to the state retirement trust fund.
Tenino is exploring legal action of its own in an effort to recoup the overpaid benefits. Brodersen declined to comment on the city’s status regarding potential legal action, although the matter was slated for council discussion in an executive session last week.
On a related matter, the city is still seeking candidates for the open police chief position. Brodersen said his goal is to present a finalist for council confirmation by the end of September.
A number of Tenino residents were outraged following Hutchings’ termination, with many people calling for the mayor’s resignation. In April, the Tenino City Council issued a 3-2 vote of no confidence in the mayor because of the decision.