Court upholds $4.1 million award to former Scappoose police chief
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld a federal jury's 2016 ruling awarding $4.12 million to former Scappoose Police Chief Doug Greisen. The award was the result of a lawsuit filed by Greisen against Jon Hanken, the former Scappoose City Manager who initiated investigations into Greisen that ultimately led to the police chief's termination.
The court judgement found that Hanken, while city manager, violated Greisen's First Amendment rights by retaliating against Greisen after the former police chief expressed concerns about Hanken's management of the city's budget.
In 2016, a jury awarded Greisen $1.12 million in economic damages and $3 million in non-economic damages. Hanken appealed the ruling, but the May 31 appeals court decision upheld the jury's findings.
The judgement is specifically against Hanken, but the award will still be paid out by the city's insurance provider, explained William Drew, one of the attorneys with the Portland law firm Elliott, Ostrander & Preston PC, who represented Greisen.
In August 2014, Greisen filed a lawsuit against Hanken, the city of Scappoose and five 'John Does,' alleging retaliation for speech and whistleblowing as well as other claims, including defamation and invasion of privacy. By January 2016, the court had dismissed all the claims except the speech retaliation claim against Hanken. In July 2016, a jury found in favor of Greisen.
Hanken, who was represented by attorney Thomas M. Christ, attempted to argue that information he shared with the media about the investigations into Greisen should not be considered "adverse employment actions," but his own exercise of free speech rights. But the court determined that the comments to media were only one part of Hanken's actions, which — along with three investigations, prohibiting Greisen from speaking about the ordeal, a suspension and administrative leave — constituted a "campaign of harassment."
Greisen was fired in May 2014 after a series of investigations. The first investigation, conducted by the Local Government Personnel Institute, an intergovernmental agency, found Greisen had improperly instructed a police officer, Anthony Miltich, to use a PIT maneuver to stop a car involved in a hit and run, despite Miltich not having proper certification. Greisen had never used a PIT maneuver, but told investigators he had "watched TV shows dealing with police related themes like pursuit episodes where PIT maneuvers were executed," according to the LGPI investigative report.
After the findings were released, Mayor Scott Burge appointed three city councilors and an attorney to a committee, called the Personnel Review Committee, to review the city manager's actions. A draft of that committee's findings recommended reducing Greisen's two-week unpaid suspension to just one week.
But the final recommendation, released after the Spotlight reported on the contents of the LGPI investigative report, determined that the consequences Greisen faced for "minor discrepancies of best practices [were] entirely out of proportion" to the PIT incident.
In the midst of investigations into his conduct, Greisen revealed that Hanken had ordered him not to speak publicly about the allegations and investigation. At the same time, Hanken was in regular communication with media and community members about Greisen, court documents show.
The internal PRC recommendation added that the LGPI report "was not an objective review, but a prosecutorial document that was colored to arrive at a predetermined result." The PRC, however, was a committee made up of three councilors, at least two of whom said they were friends with Greisen. The LGPI investigation was conducted by Craig Stoelk, a former Salem police detective, who continues to conduct investigations for Columbia County.
In November 2013, Hanken resigned from his role as city manager.
That fall, then Scappoose Sgt. Doug Carpenter had reported that Greisen had retaliated against him for reporting the PIT incident to his supervisor, Lt. Norm Miller, now Scappoose police chief. Hanken opened a second investigation with LGPI. Shortly afterward, the city began a third investigation, this one into a bag found in Greisen's office containing more than $2,000 in cash, receipts from an unauthorized bank account, and evidence from a 2011 criminal case.
According to the Ninth Circuit opinion, the second investigation found no significant evidence for the allegations, while the third investigation found Greisen violated city policy.
Don Otterman became interim city manager on Jan. 1, 2014. In April, Otterman notified Greisen that his employment would be terminated in 30 days. Under Greisen's contract, the city could fire him "without cause" so long as he was given 30 days' notice and 60 days' severance.
Hanken filed his own lawsuit against the city of Scappoose in 2015, claiming that city staff had provided negative references to Hanken's prospective employers despite a non-disparagement clause in his contract. In particular, Hanken argued the city representatives who spoke to Hanken's prospective employers "personally favored" Greisen and were motivated "to retaliate against [Hanken] for taking adverse action against [Greisen.]" Just a few months later, Hanken voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit.
Thomas Christ, who represented Hanken in the appeal, did not respond to request for comment.
"Chief Greisen was treated horribly by Scappoose's former city manager, Jon Hanken, in violation of Greisen's constitutional rights," John Ostrander, an attorney with Elliott, Ostrander & Preston, wrote in a statement to the Spotlight. "This decision completely affirms the jury's verdict and the District Court's rulings in the case, and should finally end the matter."