Former Fire Captain sues Spokane for $2.5 million

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by SHAWN CHITNIS & KREM.com

KREM.com

Posted on October 9, 2013 at 5:50 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 10 at 2:30 PM

SPOKANE, Wash.-- A former Spokane Fire Captain wants $2.5 million from the City of Spokane because he claims Spokane leaders failed to protect him from retaliation after turning in a co-worker.

Former Fire Captain Kevin Smathers filed a $2.5 million lawsuit on Tuesday, October 8th in Spokane County.  The lawsuit stated that the amount would cover attorney fees, lost pay and benefits, loss of Smathers’ career, humiliation, outrage, and damage to Smathers’ reputation. 

Smathers, a member of the Spokane Fire Department Special Investigations Unit, was fired Friday, October 4th according to Spokane leaders. The 28-year veteran was put on administrative leave May 1, 2013.

The incident began in May 2011. A lawyer for Smathers said his client reported that a subordinate had admitted to driving a City vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The Fire Chief and Assistant Fire Chief took no actions against the employee according to Smather’s lawyer.

The lawsuit claimed that the same employee reported to work months later while armed and under the influence. Smathers reported the second incident according to the court documents. The employee was then placed on administrative leave.

Smathers’ lawyer claimed that the employee returned from leave and retaliated against Smathers.
The employee filed a written complaint and stated that Smathers had “unsafe” practices according to legal documents. Smathers was notified of the complaint on February 5, 2013. Lawyers claimed that Smathers was retaliated against for a second time just a few days later when he was placed on administrative leave.

Lawyers wrote that Smathers addressed the employee accused of retaliation in a private email while he was off-duty.

Court documents released Wednesday detailed what the email in question stated.

“You are a passive aggressive, cowardly little “man” who doesn’t have the guts to do the right thing. Everyone (HR, the Union, other investigators, etc.) know why you did what you did; purely out of revenge for my notifying the Admin about your being under the influence of alcohol and driving a City vehice TWICE, once while carrying a gun. And you’re worried about my driving code and safety issues with a gun. If that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black; I don’t know what is.”

The email goes on to state that Smathers will see the man in court when he files a lawsuit.

“I have the resources and witnesses to prove all I need to,” read the email. “My mission for the remainder of my life is to pay you back for what you did. Everything I do will be legal and above board; but it will be incredibly painful and life changing for you. I am more motivated and focused on this than anything else I have decided to do in my life. I will not fail… but you will. You are the lowest, most deceitful human being I have ever known in my life. I plan on letting every person I know; what you did and why. Many already do. You are not a “little bastard”; you are just a little, cowardly, bad person (you aren’t even a man).”

The recipient of Smather’s alleged email, a fire lieutenant, perceived it as physical threat according to City officials.

City leaders said Smathers violated Civil Service rules and Spokane policies by threatening a subordinate employee. Investigators said Smathers sent a threatening email on April 19, 2013 to an employee from his personal email account. Smathers later admitted he sent the email from a personal account because he knew it was breaking policy to use his work account according to release from Spokane officials.

“The City holds its supervisors to a high standard of conduct,” Mayor David Condon said. “Threatening and unprofessional behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

Investigators spent four months looking into the case. The investigation found that Smathers violated City policy and Civil Service rules against keeping metal knuckles in a City vehicle and improperly storing three City firearms. The firearms were stored in an unapproved personal safe in Smathers’ City vehicle and later in his home according to investigators.

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