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08-22-07, 11:37 AM #1
Police Chief fired (presumably) for serving in Iraq
Sherwood fires police chief
Legal challenges - Bill Middleton, chief since 1995, says he was demoted for his 18-month military service
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
The Oregonian Staff
A contentious dispute turned toward a bitter court battle Tuesday, when the city of Sherwood fired Police Chief Bill Middleton, saying the chief's behavior led to his termination.
Middleton's attorney said the city's action added credence to his client's claims that he was demoted and punished for serving 18 months in the U.S. Army Reserves.
"Terminating him makes the issues much more clear to litigate now than if they just let him dangle there on administrative leave," said Portland attorney Mark Turner, who represents Middleton. "It just got a whole lot bigger and better."
Middleton, police chief since 1995, was given his termination notice Tuesday afternoon by Ron Ruecker, Sherwood's director of public safety and acting police chief since Middleton was put on paid administrative leave in May.
Ruecker's hiring was at the heart of Middleton's initial claim that he was demoted after returning from interrogating captured militants in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the military's Guantanamo Bay prison.
Before he returned from military duty, Middleton had reported directly to the city manager. But he returned to a new structure, with Ruecker -- the former Oregon State Police superintendent -- serving as director of public safety above him.
Middleton, a reservist for 28 years, filed a federal labor complaint of unlawful demotion under the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act, which requires employers hold open jobs for military personnel and extend to them raises, promotions and other benefits they would have received if they remained at work.
The federal labor department declined to pursue the case, but Turner said he will likely file suit in U.S. District Court for unlawful demotion and termination in violation of the Uniformed Services act. He said he also would investigate filing suit for wrongful discharge under Oregon law, as well as other possible claims.
Soon after Middleton received notice Tuesday afternoon, Assistant City Manager Jim Patterson sent out a press release that he said was prompted by anonymous telephone calls to local media outlets.
The release said Middleton was put on administrative leave in mid-May for alleged acts of misconduct and continued to engage in them while on leave.
Patterson declined to specify the acts, citing Middleton's privacy rights.
"This is a preliminary notification, and the chief will be afforded all the rights any other employee will get as a part of this process," Patterson said.
Middleton said he was stunned by the press release and referred further questions to Turner.
Middleton, 57, has a few days to decide whether to proceed under the termination procedures for city employees or for police bureau employees. He will remain on administrative leave until a termination date is set.
"We have from Day One made sure that we are in compliance with every applicable law," Patterson said. "When something like this happens in a community, it's important for the citizens to know that this will not impact them on the level of service they receive from the men and women of law enforcement.
"It is business as usual in Sherwood."
Turner denied any misconduct by his client and said the city's actions amounted to retaliation and defamation.
"I have serious doubts that what the city has done today would be a means of improving the prospect of settling in court," he said. "Don't hit me from behind with a stick and then ask to shake hands."
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08-22-07, 11:53 AM #2
This could be a very interesting case to watch as it goes through the court system. With so many law enforcement officers called to active duty I am sure that this is not the only case like this.
If that is the reason for the termination than this is totally wrong.
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