Bush sues city for $2.5 million


Fired police chief claims he was wrongfully discharged and accused city of intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation

Within a day of finding out he had been fired, former Prineville Police Chief Eric Bush responded by filing a $2.5 million lawsuit.

The complaint, filed this past Wednesday, names several defendants, including the City of Prineville, the Local Government Personnel Institute and Prineville Police Captain Michael Boyd.

The complaint is accusing the defendants of wrongful discharge as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation, and claims the case arises out of “discrimination and retaliation against (Bush) relating to his uniformed service in the National Guard” following his selection as Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, J-3, United States Forces Korea.

Prineville city officials, as they have done throughout Bush’s leave, remained silent, not commenting on filed lawsuit or any elements therein.

The complaint document, filed by Bush’s attorney Roxanne Farra, states that after Bush was promoted to brigadier general in the Oregon National Guard in September 2011, some city officials questioned his ability to carry out his military duties while adequately fulfilling his responsibilities as police chief. It further stated that upon hearing of his upcoming service in Korea, the criticism of his uniformed service “intensified.”

In particular, two city employees are claimed to have approached City Manager Steve Forrester on July 8 regarding the time of Bush’s military service taking away from his time with the police department.

In the complaint, it’s noted that on July 18, “Bush advised staff that, in his new position, his time commitment would remain about the same as it had been,” the complaint stated, “that he would no longer have to do monthly drill weekends, but would be performing his military duties in two blocks of time in March and August.”

The same day, Forrester wrote a memorandum to his file, which addressed the email Bush provided to his staff.

“As I read the email, I was surprised to see that the time requirement was 74-139 days annually,” he wrote. “As I reviewed the information, I became concerned that I would have to prepare for the maximum of 139 days as listed.”

Forrester added that the potential 27.8 weeks away from the police department would constitute “a time far greater than earned time off for the chief position and Mr. Bush’s seniority.”

Bush was later deployed to Korea, where he served from Aug. 4-31. During his absence, on Aug. 28, while Bush was serving in Korea, the city retained the Local Government Policy Institute (LGPI) to investigate Bush.

The following week, when the police chief had returned to the police department for his first day of work, he was met by Forrester and Boyd and informed of the investigation. He was then put on administrative leave and told “that his alleged misconduct involved misuse of flex time, falsifying time records, and possibly other misconduct determined during the investigation.”

Bush was asked to immediately turn in his badge, police identification, city-owned laptop, city-issued firearm, keys to any city property, and any other city property in his possession. He was further told not to come onto City of Prineville property, except for personal or nonwork-related business until further notified.

The complaint alleges that after Bush was relieved of duty, Boyd “repeatedly defamed Chief Bush to Prineville police staff, telling them Chief Bush was ‘corrupt,’ an ‘embezzler,’ and a ‘liar.’”

The document further states that during a meeting in which Boyd notified staff of Bush’s employment status, he told employees, ‘Chief Bush might just kill himself and that would be the easiest outcome.’”

The complaint does not identify the source of the alleged comments and actions by Boyd.

The LGPI investigation first delved into Bush’s time cards and use of flex time. During an interview with Bush, investigator Aaron Olson arrived with two boxes of time cards and computer aided dispatch (CAD) reports.

Bush, who had tracked his flex time on his Outlook calendar, disputed the flex time reflected in the CAD reports, which was substantially higher. According to the complaint, Bush had offered to show the city his Outlook calendar, but the city refused to view it.

After the investigator later obtained his calendar, he “poured over Bush’s 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 appointment and flex time calendars week by week, and in many instances, day by day ... Olson said he could find no wrongdoing by Bush regarding his flex time use.”

The investigator also review Bush’s 83 military orders, where he found two clerical errors made regarding his mileage when the police chief was performing city and military duties.

“Olson said he saw no intent on the part of Bush in regard to those errors,” the complaint stated. Upon learning of the errors, Olson contacted the Oregon Military Department and advised them of the two mistakes, and another he discovered while reviewing the travel vouchers.

“That department made all needed amendments to Bush’s travel vouchers,” the court document reads, “without concern or reprimand.”

According to Farra, the city then targeted Bush’s emails on his city computer from 2008 to 2013.

The city later presented the police chief with a CD-ROM containing 481 emails and required him to write down each one’s relationship to his work duties. The complaints stated that while Bush was going over the emails, a city employee was asked to prepare a new reconciliation of his flex time.

On Feb. 28, six months after first learning about the investigation, Bush chose to deliver a tort claim notice to City Attorney Carl Dutli. It was delivered shortly after he first had the window to do so.

“Under Oregon law, a person who believes they have grounds for a lawsuit against a public body, like the city, must deliver a tort claim notice on the public body within 180 days of a triggering event,” the complaint read.

On April 22, Dutli sent Bush a confidential draft of the preliminary summary of allegations and findings of fact compiled by LGPI. According to Farra, the contained, “numerous, obvious, patently and provably false statements about Chief Bush.”

The filed complaint further stated that Dutli included a cover letter that said, “Once the final report is received by the City, if a public records request is made seeking a copy of the report, the City intends to provide a copy to the person requesting it.” It later added, “As you are likely aware, several Central Oregon media sources are pursuing continual and consistent requests for the report from the City.”

Farra said Dutli closed by suggesting that if Bush resolved the matter before the city received the final report, disclosure of the report could be avoided. Bush refused the offer.

On May 19, the city sent Bush a copy of the final LGPI report, which contained many of the same findings that the police chief found provably false. Consequently, he provided the city with a 73-page response to it. That response was provided to the city on June 26.

Farra claims the city made no further contact with Bush until he received his termination letter on July 15.

In the letter, Forrester wrote that the “number of flextime hours (Bush) claimed increased dramatically” following his September 2011 promotion to brigadier general ...”

The complaint disputes his claim, noting that the figures are derived from the CAD data and not Bush’s Outlook calendar.

Forrester also wrote that he “found it very disturbing that Chief Bush has lost the confidence and trust of at least four of the six senior staff at the police department.”

Farra concluded that the city unlawfully fired Bush based upon his uniformed military service, and used false statements intended to destroy the reputation he had earned over “a lifetime of service to his country and city.”

Bush is suing the city for $2.514 million to cover the loss of employment, lost wages, loss of increased pay, loss of benefits, loss of future income, and loss or reduction of PERS retirement benefits. He is also seeking an injunction “in the form of reinstatement to his former position as police chief at the same rate of pay and benefits he was receiving at the time of his termination, as well as “back pay for any period of unemployment plus prejudgment interest at the rate of 9 percent per annum, simple interest, from the date each payment was due until entry of judgment.”

“The City’s wrongful and unlawful conduct has caused Bush severe emotional harm, humiliation, loss of reputation, embarrassment, and resulting physical injury in an amount to be proven at trial,” the complaint stated.

Attempts to reach Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe was unsuccessful by press deadline. As noted, Forrester and Dutli declined to comment on the lawsuit.