Jason Servo says his alcoholism is a disease and disability thats protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act
A Gresham police officer who was fired after pleading guilty to drunken driving and crashing the unmarked police car he was driving home is suing the city for $6 million on the grounds that his alcoholism is a disability.
Jason Servo, 43, of Clackamas filed the suit on Thursday, April 25, two years after Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger notified Servo he was being fired because of his misdemeanor conviction, according to the suit.
The complaint also alleged Servo was denied due process and that the police officers' union did not provide adequate representation and contends that his firing was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which classifies alcoholics as a protected class.
Alcoholics are in fact covered by the ADA, according to the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division
under the U.S. Department of Justice.
However, an employee can discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance and conduct, according to an excerpt from ADA Questions and Answers by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Servo contends this does not apply in his circumstance because he was off-duty at the time of the crash that lead to the end of his law enforcement career.
He was the department's lead firearms instructor and had worked for the police department for 12 years when on Jan. 29, 2011, he crashed a city-owned undercover vehicle, a Chevrolet Blazer, in a ditch on Southeast 172nd Avenue south of Foster Road. He'd driven the vehicle to a department firearms training in Troutdale, after which he and his other off-duty coworkers had dinner and several alcoholic drinks at nearby McMenamins Edgefield. This was a common practice among GPD officers and had become an inherent part of the culture of the GPD, according to the suit.
After the crash, he refused to submit to breath or field sobriety tests. The Clackamas County sheriff's deputy who cited him testified before the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training that Servo was one of the top 10 most intoxicated people he'd ever arrested in his 15 years in the field.
Due to the amount of alcohol consumed, Servo had no clear recollections of the evening.
Gresham police placed Servo on paid administrative leave following his arrest. He went to an in-patient alcohol treatment program through Serenity Lane and was diagnosed as an alcoholic. One month after his arrest, the city converted Servo's leave to unpaid leave and began an internal affairs investigation.
The investigation also examined unsecured weapons and confidential documents related to a closed homicide investigation that Servo had in his vehicle at the time of the crash. The suit alleges that although Servo had asked for a lockbox for weapons and case files, the city refused to pay for one.
On March 24, 2011, Servo pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence of intoxicants. But because it was Servo's first offense, he was eligible for the diversion program.
Here's how it works. Once the program's requirements are met, the charge is dismissed.
But before he could complete the diversion program, which Servo successfully did, Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger terminated him effective May 11, 2011, citing Servo's misdemeanor conviction.
This is false and represents a profound lack of knowledge about Oregon criminal law, according to the suit. Junginger also admitted he does not consider alcoholism to be a disability and further he does not believe there is such a thing as alcoholism, he believes it is a choice.
The suit also alleged that Junginger used unconstitutional reasons for intervening with the investigation namely to force Servo out in order to save money on personnel.
Servo said his position was never filled, saving the city money. The suit also alleges that a captain who conducted the internal affairs investigation made false statements of facts not supported by the interviews or evidence as a pretext to fire Servo and created new rules regarding carrying weapons and investigative notebooks that did not exist as a basis to find that Servo violated those rules.
In addition, the suit claims that Junginger violated law by ordering the captain to write a false report, create facts, invent rule violations and disregarded exculpatory evidence.
He (Junginger) had his mind made up, and he just needed evidence to support it, Servo said.
Junginger deferred comment on the lawsuit to the city's spokeswoman, who also speaking on behalf of City Attorney Dave Ris, declined to comment on pending litigation.
As a result of Servo's termination, the state revoked Servo's three police certifications, making it impossible for him to work as a police officer in the state of Oregon. He is now self-employed as a private investigator.
Servo's attorney says he is the first officer in the state to have been fired for a diversion-eligible charge of driving under the influence of intoxicants and to be decertified as a police officer.
To discard an officer with my training and experience is a disservice to the community, proven I can stay sober, he said.
Servo also said he doesn't want another officers to be treated as he was.
The lack of leadership by Chief Junginger has forced addiction into the dark and created an environment where no officer will seek help for his or her addition and I know there are guys who need it, Servo said. Other departments recognize and support addiction issues with officers and have safeguards in place to ensure that good officers are not lost.