The City of San Antonio runs the city’s airport. But, the Airport has its own police department. Until 2009, the airport police department was separate from the San Antonio Police Department. Airport Police Officer Russell Martin complained about Sgt. Orlandop Battles’ time entries. In 2008, Officer Martin, a veteran of some 30 plus years in law enforcement, said Sgt. Battles was recording his time inaccurately. Four days after his complaint, Officer Martin was assigned to work with Sgt. Battles. A remarkable coincidence.
Officer Martin asked to not work with Sgt. Battles. He said working with him would result in "fiscticuffs or shooting." The officer explained later that he meant the statement as a shock statement to get his supervisor’s attention, not as a threat. The pairing was changed. He would not work with Sgt. Battles. Six months later, having forgotten about the statement, Officer Martin was told he would be terminated for making threats. As a city employee, Officer Martin appealed the decision to a semi-independent board, the city’s civil commission. The commission found in favor of the veteran officer, by a vote of 2-1. But, the City Manager, Sheryl Sculley, overruled the commission’s finding. She upheld the termination. Officer Martin filed suit in state district court.
A year and a half later, he amended his petition to add a federal claim based on 42 U.S.C. §1983. Sec. 1983 requires that states and local governments provide basic procedural due process when terminating public employees. The Plaintiff argued that when the City Manager overturned the civil commission’s finding, she did so without affording him a hearing. She made a paper decision. She did not first conduct her own hearing before reaching her decision. .
Some four years after filing suit, the parties have now reached a settlement. Gilbert Garcia, a San Antonio Express news columinst says it is the largest settlement by the city in recent memory, $225,000. All because the City Manager ignored the recommendation of her own commission. And, all because the airport police could not accept one veteran officer making fairly routine complaints about a co-worker. See San Antonio Express News report here (requires an account).
According to the court’s file, the settlement was actually reached in late July. It took some three months for the San Antonio City Council to finally address the settlement. The City Council will vote on the settlement the week of Oct. 1. Settling with public entities takes longer, but the plaintiff does not need to fear the public entity will declare bankruptcy. Mostly anyway….