Wednesday Mar 24 2010
Ex-cop’s city lawsuit moves forward
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
The city of Rocklin has filed an interlocutory appeal against a former Rocklin Police Sergeant’s lawsuit for wrongful termination. The lawsuit, filed by former Rocklin Police Sgt. Rick Eaton, states that Eaton was fired for allegedly refrefusing to participate in red-light ticket incentives, among other things. City officials say the lawsuit is without merit. It’s been nearly six years since Rocklin Police Sgt. Rick Eaton was fired by Police Chief Mark Siemens and City Manager Carlos Urrutia for insubordination, according to Eaton’s lawyer. Since then, Eaton has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the pair and the city for unspecified damages. In fact, the trial was expected to start March 26, but city attorneys filed an interlocutory appeal contesting the decision on a motion for summary judgment. The summary judgment was filed on the grounds that the defendants, Urrutia and Siemens, had immunity as government officials. “This is a never-ending saga,” said Eaton’s attorney James Ashworth. It is still unclear if the lawsuit has enough merit to win a final judgment. In December, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted partial summary judgement. The court found Eaton had sufficient evidence to show Siemens and Urrutia violated the plaintiff’s equal protection rights in disciplining and ultimately terminating him without a rational basis. The court found there were triable issues of fact as to whether the defendents discriminated against a distinct group of employees referred to as “non-team players.” “Non-team players,” the plaintiff’s alleged group, were categorically different than other similarly situated employees, in imposing discipline and rendering decisions to terminate employees. For example, Eaton describes how he was brought up on charges and punished by Urrutia and Siemens. The punishment was as a result of a conversation he had with another officer about her feelings and beliefs regarding having had a breast augmentation. Eaton complains that other employees, including a police lieutenant who was part of the “team players” group, were not similarly punished for the same type behavior. “In the complaint, they basically said, ‘you are on one team or you’re not,’” Ashworth said. In another example, the plaintiff describes in the complaint that he was ultimately terminated for having revealed alleged violations of law and criminal activity by the city and its employees. Yet other employees were hired and promoted despite convictions for, among other things, theft of police evidence, of a pornographic nature, while working for another agency. Eaton alleges Siemens created incentives for officers to write red-light tickets, which is a violation of the vehicle code. The suit also alleges Urrutia and Siemens squashed descent. “In a two- to three-year period, everybody who raised any issues were fired and then after that nobody raised complaints or concerns,” Ashworth said. The complaint alleges Urrutia and Siemens allegedly tried to break the police union. Urrutia and Siemens allegedly made the attempts after the union president David Kert was forced into retirement after he filed a number of grievances on behalf of the union. The suit also lists two female officers who claim they were sexually harassed by another officer. As soon as those grievances were allegedly denied by the city, they were fired. Rocklin Police Officer Byron Green testified that Siemens was allegedly abusing his take-home vehicle for personal use. After he reported it, Green was allegedly forced to resign. It was found that Eaton did not engage in free speech when he complained about his supervisors because the efficiency of the Rocklin Police Department outweighed the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights. Siemens and Urrutia declined to comment. The city of Rocklin’s attorney did not respond as of press time. If there is a dismissal, a trial is expected to start this summer.