Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Former Chief Douglas Wright - Benton Harbor PD
Former Benton Harbor Police Chief Douglas Wright sued the city. He claimed that he had been wrongfully fired after he was criminally charged with domestic violence and obstruction of a police investigation.
Also See: Chief Wright charged with domestic violence and obstruction of investigation:
Ex-chief to get $30,000 payment
Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 12:00 am
Updated: 6:10 pm, Tue Nov 15, 2011.
By LYNN STEVENS / H-P Staff Writer
BENTON HARBOR -- City commissioners on Monday night approved a $30,000 settlement for former police Chief Douglas Wright.
The amount corresponds to the 3-month severance package the city pays fired department heads.
Wright was fired in November 2001, two days after he was charged with trying to obstruct a police investigation into domestic violence.
He allegedly beat and tried to choke his wife in their home on Aug. 2, 2001. The case was dropped in April 2002 after Wright's wife, Lucy, refused to testify.
In November 2002, Wright sued the city for wrongful discharge. He sought nearly four years of back pay.
His contract with the city was to run through June 30, 2005.
But the contract, which Wright himself had written, specified conditions under which he could be fired without paying off the remainder of the contract term. One of those was being charged with a crime.
Wright's lawyer, James Waters, wrote in his lawsuit that the contract provision was void because that language was a clear violation of state and federal policy.
Waters, a former city attorney, and the city's current attorney, Charlette Pugh Tall, have been negotiating the suit since fall.
A settlement conference was scheduled for last week before Judge Scott Schoefield in Berrien Trial Court. Had negotiations failed, the case was to go to trial Dec. 30.
Tall asked for a closed meeting Monday night to discuss it with commissioners.
After the closed session, which Commissioner Joan Brown did not attend, all the commissioners approved the settlement.
Mayor Charles Yarbrough said he cast his vote with reservations. Commissioner Ricky Hill said he was voting reluctantly.
Commissioners Steven McCoy and Ralph Crenshaw said they were not completely happy with the settlement, but voted for it as a cost-effective means of dealing with the lawsuit.
They have another suit to deal with soon. Former city manager Joel Patterson in October filed a wrongful discharge claim under the Whistleblower's Act.
Former Benton Harbor police chief sues city for firing
Posted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002 12:00 am
Updated: 5:44 pm, Tue Nov 15, 2011
By LYNN STEVENS / H-P Staff Writer
ST. JOSEPH -- Former Benton Harbor Police Chief Douglas Wright has sued the city claiming he was wrongfully fired in November 2001.
City Manager Joel Patterson fired Wright two days after he was charged with trying to obstruct a police investigation into whether he had assaulted his wife on Aug. 2, 2001, at the couple's home.
Charges against Wright were dropped in April. Berrien County Prosecutor James Cherry said the obstruction charge would be too difficult to prove, and Wright's wife, Lucy, refused to testify on the domestic violence charge.
But under the five-year contract Wright had written himself, even being charged with a crime was grounds for firing without pay.
In the lawsuit, Wright's lawyer, James Water of Muskegon Heights, said the contract language "is a clear violation of state and federal public policy and is void."
Water also claimed the firing was a violation of the city charter, city codes and denial of due process. He also wrote that Patterson had a personal vendetta against his client over a motor vehicle accident claim.
Wright was hired in June 2000 by then-city manager Ron Singleton. He was chosen from a field of more than two dozen applicants. His contract ran through June 30, 2005.
The suit asks for back pay and fringe benefits, reinstatement as police chief or pay for the unexpired years of Wright's 5-year contract, and compensation for pain, mental stress and emotional anguish. It also asks for compensation for damages to Wright's reputation and for impeding him from finding another job by knowingly making false and defamatory statements after his firing. Finally, it seeks payment of court costs, interest and attorney fees.
The case has been assigned to Judge John Fields. City Attorney Charlette Pugh Tall earlier this month filed an appearance on behalf of the city. Neither Pugh Tall or Patterson could be reached for comment.
Wright has demanded a jury trial, but no trial date has been set.
Wright was paid a salary of $60,000 per year and received two weeks of paid vacation.