Wednesday Oct 12 2011
Council supports Siemens, Urrutia
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
City breaks five-year silence on firing of former police officer
As former Rocklin Police Sgt. Rick Eaton’s 2006 wrongful termination case moves closer to trial, the City Council broke a nearly five-year silence by issuing a public statement Tuesday night. “We make these findings in support of our former City Manager and former Chief of Police because we, as a council, think it is good public policy for the council to support the excellent public officials, such as Police Chief Mark Siemens and City Manager Carlos Urrutia, who always dedicated themselves to public service and acted in the best interest of the city of Rocklin,” said Mayor George Magnuson. The prepared statement was released following a closed session discussion on the case with City Attorney Russell Hildebrand. Following his termination, Eaton filed a grievance against the department, but an arbitrator concluded the city was justified in its handling of the case. Eaton then filed a lawsuit against the city challenging his dismissal and seeking unspecified damages for the wrongful termination. Eaton claims the former chief and city manager violated his right to equal protection under the law when handling discipline for Eaton’s alleged sexual harassment of a female Rocklin officer. “Carlos and Mark showed strong leadership required of their position in getting rid of a police supervisor who was a disruptive force and undermined the good order and efficiency of the police department for a number of years,” Magnuson said. The city claims Urrutia and Siemens should not be held personally responsible for their conduct because they were doing their jobs as agents of the city. “At the time of the act, giving rise to liability, both Carlos Urrutia and Mark Siemens acted in good faith and without actual malice and in the apparent best interest of the city of Rocklin,” Magnuson continued. Earlier this year, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court refused to grant Urrutia and Siemens immunity in the case. Eaton considers himself a whistle-blower who helped end an alleged illegal pizza-for-ticket quota program conducted by the police department in 2003. The council denies there is any merit to Eaton’s claims. “Mr. Eaton’s allegations that the city has a long standing policy of punishing police officers who refused to violate the law and rewarding police officers who violated the law is offensive to us,” Magnuson said. Eaton said he was surprised by the council’s sudden public statement at this stage of the litigation process. “The city council is entitled to their opinion,” Eaton said. “We’ll keep going forward toward a final resolution wherever that ends up.” A pre-trial settlement hearing is expected to begin in December, but it’s unclear if the city is preparing for a settlement or a trial. Tuesday’s statement indicated the council voted unanimously in closed session to authorize any award of punitive or exemplary damages if such a judgment is made. “It is the opinion of this city council that the judgment is based on an act or admission of former employees acting with in the course and scope of their employment as employees of the city of Rocklin,” Magnuson said. The council’s statement also indicated a potential unspecified payout could occur if the ruling doesn’t favor the city. “Payment of the claim or judgment would be in the best interest of city of Rocklin,” Magnuson said. Urrutia retired in December 2010, while Siemens left this March. Both were named defendants in the wrongful termination case along with the city. A trial could begin in 2012.