Spokane Attorney Bob Dunn has filed a claim for damages against the City of Spokane on behalf of a former firefighter who claims he experienced a hostile work environment after reporting that a subordinate employee had admitted to driving a city vehicle under the influence of alcohol.
The claim was filed Tuesday and states that Capt. Kevin Smathers is seeking "not less than $2,500,000.00" for attorney fees and costs; lost pay and benefits; loss of career; humiliation; outrage and damage to reputation.
The City of Spokane announced Wednesday that they terminated Captain Smathers on October 4th for sending a threatening email.
In a letter sent to Mayor David Condon on the September 4th requesting the Mayor's intervention and protection of Captain Smathers, Dunn states that "the days of 'cronyism' and 'protectionism' are long past when it comes to exposing improper or unlawful conduct within the ranks of Spokane's Police and Fire Departments."
Dunn claims Captain Smathers is being "vilified and victimized" for reporting an intoxicated co-worker.
In the letter to Mayor Condon, Dunn says that Capt. Smathers reported the incident in May of 2011 and no action was taken by Fire Chief Williams or Asst. Chief Schaeffer. Several months after that, the same firefighter allegedly reported to work again under the influence, this time while armed. Captain Smathers claims he reported the violation again, and this time the employee was placed on administrative leave.
However, Dunn says that when the employee returned to duty, he retaliated against Captain Smathers by filing a written complaint for "unsafe" practices. Chief Williams and Assistant Chief Schaeffer notified Captain Smathers of the complaint in February 2013. Dunn claims that while defending himself against the complaint, Captain Smathers cited past acts of policy misconduct by Schaeffer to illustrate a point between "contrived and/or pretextual complaints" versus real policy violations. Dunn says Smathers was placed on administrative leave two days after that meeting.
The letter says Captain Smathers was eventually exonerated of all claims of misconduct that were made against him, however Dunn says Smathers was further punished for being a whistle blower by being removed from the Arson Investigation Unit. Following the demotion, Smathers emailed the employee who made the claim against him and told him he was going to sue him for damages done to his career. The employee in turn showed the email to Williams and Schaeffer, who then according to Dunn, claimed Smathers violated some "as yet undisclosed City policies and procedures."
The letter submitted to Mayor Condon stated that Captain Smathers did not want to file a formal "Whistle blower Complaint" or a lawsuit, but he wanted Condon to intervene and ensure that the treatment against him ceased immediately. Captain Smathers requested to be reinstated to active duty and his position in the Arson Investigation Unit.
Dunn closed the letter by saying if Smathers was not reinstated, the lawsuit would be filed. Within the closing paragraph Dunn stated he has "absolutely no reluctance in representing aggrieved City employees who have been subjected to abusive, hostile, and retaliatory misconduct by Administrators who have become confused about their duties as public servants."
Smathers has been a Spokane firefighter for 28 years.
Shortly after we received the release from Smathers' lawyer, the City of Spokane responded by saying they have terminated Captain Smathers for "violating Civil Service rules and City policies by threatening a subordinate employee."
The city says an investigation conducted by an independent investigator determined that Smathers sent a "disparaging and threatening email" to the employee, a fire lieutenant, using his personal account. According to an investigation, Smathers admitted that he avoided using his City email because he knew sending a threatening message violate City policies. The email, which according to the report released by the City of Spokane Smathers admitted to sending, stated in full:
"I kept waiting to see if you had the decency to contact me and to no one's surprise (certainly not mine) you didn't. You are a passive aggressive cowardly little "man" who doesn't have the guts to do the right thing. Everyone (HR, the Union, other investigators, etc.) know why you did what you did; purely out of revenge for my notifying the Admin about your being under the influence of alcohol and driving a City vehicle TWICE, once while carrying a gun. And you're worried about my driving code and safety issues with my gun. If that isn't the pot calling the kettle black; I don't know what is.
You are an (redacted) who blames everyone for your problem except for yourself. Go back and read the twelve steps; you need to.
I am going to sue you for everything I can get from you. I have retained a law firm and they both say I have textbook case for slander, libel and defamation of character. The dollar amount of damages to be requested is being calculated. I have the resources and witnesses to prove all I need to. My mission for the remainder of my life is to pay you back for what you did. Everything I do will be legal and above the board; but it will be incredibly painful and life changing for you. I am more motivated and focused on this than on anything else I have decided to do in my life. I will not fail... but you will."
You are the lowest, most deceitful human being I have ever known in my life. I plan on letting every person I know; what you did and why. Many already do. You are not a "little bastard"; you are just a little, cowardly, bad person (you aren't even a man).
See you in court."
Smathers has been on administrative leave since May 1st.
Mayor Condon said, "the City holds its supervisors to a high standard of conduct... threatening and unprofessional behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The City takes very seriously its obligation to provide a safe, appropriate work environment for all employees."
During the four-month investigation, the City also says that Smathers violated City policy and Civil Service rules against keeping metal knuckles in a City vehicle and improperly storing three City firearms.
You can read all of the documents in the City's investigation and those that were sent to us by Kevin Smathers' lawyer by clicking the links to the right of this page.