Spokane officer fired for DUI may regain job, back pay

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - A Spokane police officer fired in 2009 after driving drunk while off duty, hitting a pickup with his truck and leaving the scene of the collision is likely to be rehired and get more than two years of back pay - totaling about $275,000.

In a settlement mediated by the Washington State Human Rights Commission, Brad Thoma will be rehired March 1 in a demoted position of detective, if the Spokane City Council agrees to the deal on Monday, the Spokesman-Review reported Wednesday.

Under the agreement, the city will also pay his attorney - Bob Dunn - $15,000. Dunn argues that job-related stress led Thoma to alcoholism and should be regarded as a disability.

He argues that the police department knew Thoma struggled with alcoholism and didn't try to get him help. Thoma filed a complaint about his firing with the Washington State Human Rights Commission soon after he was terminated.

Dunn likened the incident to someone who got into a collision as a result of seizure caused by epilepsy.

"If your disease is a result of your job and your employer knows it and you're sick and need some help, it's the duty of the employer" to get the employee help, Dunn said.

Prior to his firing in December 2009, Thoma was a sergeant.

City officials said Thoma was disciplined for his actions, not alcoholism. Assistant City Attorney Erin Jacobson said she is unaware of evidence that the city knew that Thoma was an alcoholic until he claimed to be one after the crash.

Jacobson said the demotion is a sign that the city believes that officers can be disciplined for off-duty illegal behavior.

"When you're a police officer, you should know better," she said.

Dunn is known to represent officers in trouble.

The settlement follows a trial last year in which a jury awarded Detective Jay Mehring $722,000, mostly for emotional distress and pain and suffering. Mehring was placed on unpaid leave from the police force after he was accused of threatening to kill his wife during a messy divorce. He was reinstated to the force and given back pay after a jury acquitted him in October 2008.

Dunn, who also represented Mehring, was awarded an additional $833,000 in attorney's fees.

The city is appealing that decision.

Dunn also represents former Detective Jeff Harvey, who filed a lawsuit earlier this month after being fired last year. Harvey was charged with obstruction of justice following a January 2011 encounter with a state Fish and Wildlife officer, but was acquitted in September.