Former PL chief sues city
Former Pequot Lakes Police Chief Jerry Braam has served a lawsuit against the city of Pequot Lakes, arguing the city acted unlawfully in firing him from his position.
Braam was fired as police chief last Sept. 28. He had been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 16, 2010, after a complaint was filed against him by Mayor Nancy Adams.
No reason has been given by the city for Braam’s firing. City officials have said because Braam was an at-will employee and not under contract the city wasn’t required to release information regarding the complaint against Braam or why the council terminated him.
The complaint, issued by Braam’s attorney Stephen Cooper on Aug. 4, names as defendants the city of Pequot Lakes; the Pequot Lakes Police Department; Adams as mayor; and City Attorney Paul Sandelin.
In the complaint, Braam alleges:
• In 2008 he suffered an on-the-job shoulder injury that required workers’ compensation services. When hearing of the injury from Braam, Adams allegedly said, “Oh, great, more bills for the city.”
• In May of 2010, Adams asked Braam to support her for mayor, which Braam said would be inappropriate as a city official and because he didn’t live in the city. Braam claimed this irritated Adams.
• In June of 2010, Braam alleges that Adams initiated an investigation against him because he drove his squad car to a doctor’s appointment concerning the workers’ compensation issue, a violation of city policy. Her recommendation was to terminate him, Braam alleges.
• Braam stated that during his trip to the doctor he also picked up equipment the police department had ordered. Braam also stated the Pequot Lakes vehicle policy exempts police employees from the rule that all vehicles are to remain on city property when not used for city business.
• Braam said he was not informed of Adams’ investigation until Aug. 16, 2010, when he was placed on paid administrative leave. Braam said he had five days to either accept Adams’ recommendation of termination or resign his position. If he did neither, a special council meeting would be convened on Aug. 24 to terminate Braam.
• Later on Aug. 16, 2010, Braam alleges Adams improperly told the police department’s office manager that Braam had been placed on paid administrative leave because of the investigation into Braam using a squad car to go to his workers’ compensation doctor appointment in the Twin Cities. Braam also alleges that Adams told the office manager that if that was the only violation she would recommend he receive a month off without pay, but there was more to the investigation. Adams told the office manager that Braam was stealing and other information from the investigation that was never completed, substantiated and eventually dropped.
• That Sandelin’s wife, for whom Braam’s daughter worked, on Aug. 16 told his daughter that Braam had been fired and discussed the allegations as fact. She asked Braam’s daughter to not say anything to Braam because it could get her husband in trouble.
• That Adams, while campaigning for mayor in 2010, told another mayoral candidate who was unhappy about Braam’s enforcement of drunk driving and bar checks that she would get rid of Braam if the candidate would withdraw from the race.
• On Sept. 28, in a closed session of the city council, it was recommended the investigation against Braam be stopped with no final disciplinary action and the investigation be concluded as unfounded. After that, Adams asked and received a motion to terminate Braam as an at-will employee.
• Braam also alleges that Adams gave private, confidential and false information about him to the acting police chief; that she’s made negative and false comments about him to members of the community; that Adams has disclosed private, confidential, inaccurate and false information about him to members of the community; and that Adams stated to members of the community that the behavior for which Braam was terminated was akin to that of “Tom Petters and Denny Hecker.”
There are seven counts in Braam’s complaint.
Count One alleges a Data Practice Act violation.
Count Two alleges a violation of the peace officers discipline procedures act.
Count Three alleges an improper workers’ compensation reprisal.
Count Four alleges a violation of Braam’s civil rights.
Count Five alleges a negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Count Six alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Count Seven alleges defamation against Braam.
Braam is seeking in excess of $50,000 for compensation, mental anguish and suffering; all attorneys’ fees and costs; equitable and injunctive relief; a civil penalty; and for all damages allowed by statute or law.
Cooper said the investigation into Braam was manufactured by Adams because she wanted to get rid of him. When the investigation failed, the city used the at-will excuse to terminate Braam, Cooper said.
“We’re making allegations that the city did a whole, large number of things wrong,” Copper said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “At-will was a last, desperate grasp from them to get out of the fact that they clearly didn’t behave in the manner they were expected to behave. They said, ‘We goofed up, so how can we get out of this?’ So they came up with that scheme. ... They tried a Hail Mary pass at the end and hoped someone would buy it.”
The complaint has been served on city officials but has not been filed in Crow Wing County District Court for jury trial. The Pequot Lakes City Council met in a closed session Aug. 30 to discuss pending litigation.
Pamela VanderWiel, the attorney appointed by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust to represent the city, on Wednesday emailed a statement that the city, its officials and employees have been advised by the city’s attorney not to discuss Braam’s lawsuit.
VanderWiel reiterated the city’s stance that the police chief is an atwill employee of the city can be fired for any reason, or no reason whatsoever. She further stated the mayor and city council have the authority and responsibility to set direction for city departments and last year the city council decided to take the police department in a new direction and “discharged” Mr. Braam.
“There is no law or policy that prohibits the city from making that decision. The city, mayor and the city attorney acted lawfully and well within their authority throughout this matter,” VanderWiel said in the emailed statement. “The lawsuit by the former chief and his attorneys does not have a basis in law and the city will defend itself vigorously.”
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.