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Washington Cop Retaliation Nets $1.65 Million
In 2000, Officer Navin Sharma of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) filed a racial discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and a federal suit. In 2001, Sharma agreed to settle the suit, expecting the harassment to end. It did not.
Following the settlement, a City/County department manager referred to Sharma, who is of East Indian descent, as "the sand nigger who sued the City and won." Employees reported the comment, but no action was taken.
Within the City Attorney's Office, Sharma was routinely referred to as "Sharmageddon." He also received racially explicit telephone messages and profane images, including a photocopy of a middle finger "flipping the bird" left on the windshield of his car. Despite countless complaints to Police Command and City officials, no meaningful steps were taken to stop the retaliation and harassment.
In 2006, Sharma was terminated because of alleged errors in his Driving Under the Influence (DUI) reports. These were inadvertent mistakes that should not have led to discipline, according to Sharma's police guild representative and an outside investigator from the Washington State Patrol (WSP). At worst, Sharma's errors amounted to a "training issue," the WSP Investigator concluded. Nevertheless, former Acting Police Chief Mitch Barker told City investigators to "keep digging."
During an eight month internal affairs investigation, the City's investigator interviewed just two witnesses. None of Sharma's supervisors who had approved the reports were interviewed. Dozens of back-up cover officers who had also authored supplemental DUI reports and co-officers who later testified that they made similar mistakes but received no discipline also were not interviewed. In the nine years before this incident. Sharma had never been disciplined in any way.
Even so, City officials moved to revoke Shanna's peace officer certification. They also sent letters to at least 90 criminal defense lawyers, purportedly under Brady v. Maryland, implying that Sharma was a "dirty cop" who was dishonest and who had committed serious misconduct.
High level City officials unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the County Prosecutor to file felony criminal charges against Sharma. The prosecutor later testified under oath that he refused to prosecute because the City had conducted no investigation and it did not appear to him that a crime had been committed.
In 2006, Sharma brought a federal racial discrimination and retaliation suit. Evidence surfaced during discovery, suggesting that the City's Lead Prosecutor may have hidden exculpatory evidence in a criminal case that established the innocence of the defendant. She was fired and paid approximately $30,000 in severance pay. The City appears to have hidden these facts from public disclosure.
During two years of contentious litigation, none of the dozens of City administrators and other witnesses testified that Sharma had acted intentionally or done anything dishonest. Sharma's lawyers presented compelling evidence of Caucasian officers being disciplined less severely than Sharma was treated, despite intentionally falsifying reports and sworn affidavits, lying during investigations, committing felony perjury, criminal assault and multiple sexual assaults, extortion and theft. In some cases, the officers were shielded from prosecution or the revocation of their law enforcement certification. Some received no discipline at all.
Many current and former police officers and City employees were prepared to testify in Sharma's behalf during an October 2008 trial.
"This was the first time any City employee had the courage and fortitude to take on the City's powers that be, which, like the Great Wizard of Oz, stand behind the curtain pulling levers and ending careers, while the bad folks go untouched," said Greg Ferguson, one of Sharma's attorneys. "Because of that, Officer Sharma's fellow officers and others, knowing the risks, were willing to lay it on the line for him.”
Approximately six weeks before trial, during a September 4, 2008, court-mandated mediation session, the parties reached the $1,650,000 settlement, which is believed to be the largest single-plaintiff employment settlement in Washington history.
However, Sharma received much more than money. The City agreed to notify the state law enforcement agency and Criminal Justice Training Commission that no action was warranted regarding Sharma's credentials. Any state employee retirement benefit contributions that Sharma lost were to be replaced by the City. Defendants also agreed to correct his personnel tile to reflect that he retired in good standing with his official law enforcement credentials acknowledging his honorable years of service. Finally, the City took several steps to restore Sharma's reputation, including a letter of gratitude prepared by City Manager Pat McDonnell, thanking Sharma for his years of outstanding service and for being a pioneer in the development of the City's Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS-SWAT) Unit, which proved instrumental in saving officer and citizen lives.
"The defendants tried to shoot down and rob Officer Sharma of his honor and credibility." said Scott Blankenship, one of Sharma's lawyers. "Without Defendants' willingness to right these wrongs, no amount of money would have settled this case, and we would have ended up in front of the jury. This settlement forces the City to give back what they took, something a jury could not do.” See: Sharma v. City of Vancouver, USDC No. C06-5688BHS (WD Wa 2008).
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Related legal case
Sharma v. City of Vancouver
|Cite||USDC No. C06-5688BHS (WD Wa 2008)|