Court Upholds $4.1 Million Judgment In Favor Of Police Chief

Doug Greisen was the police chief for Scappoose, Oregon. Greisen brought this lawsuit against Defendant Jon Hanken, the Scappoose City Manager.

Greisen became concerned about Hanken’s management of the City’s overall budget. Greisen voiced his concern to several people outside his chain of command, including City Councilor Judi Ingham. In addition to discussing his specific concerns about the Police Department’s budget, Greisen discussed with Councilor Ingham matters concerning Hanken’s management of the overall City budget, including the budgets of other departments. Greisen also discussed with City Councilor Donna Gedlich his concerns regarding several other departmental budgets.

On May 14, 2012, the Scappoose City Council held a budget meeting. Two councilors expressed a desire to hire more police officers than Hanken’s proposed City budget would have allowed. At that meeting, Greisen did not voice support for Hanken’s overall budget. The following day, May 15, 2012, Hanken said to Greisen, “I’m mad at you. You stay on your side of City Hall. I don’t want to see you over here.”

After Hanken told Greisen to stay on his side of City Hall, Greisen began to ask himself, “What’s being hidden?” Greisen then spoke with City Finance Administrator Jill Herr and with other departmental heads, including the heads of the Water Department, the Sewer Department, and the Public Works Department. From these conversations, Greisen learned that, shortly before going into the budgeting process, Hanken had been holding back the City from paying invoices received from various City vendors for as much as three or four months. Greisen also learned that vendors had been asking when they would be paid. Eventually, the vendors would be paid in the following fiscal year. Greisen learned that this practice was happening not only with the Police Department’s budget but in other department budgets throughout the City.

In February 2013, Greisen learned that one of his officers was attempting a traffic stop and arrest of a hit-and-run suspect. The officer requested backup. Greisen was less than a mile away, so he left a city council meeting to assist. It was common for Greisen to assist his officers when they needed help. After observing the suspect, Greisen directed another officer to perform a PIT maneuver to stop the suspect’s vehicle. The suspect was arrested and later pled guilty to reckless driving and recklessly endangering another.

On July 17, 2013, Hanken sent Greisen a letter notifying Greisen that Hanken had directed an outside agency to investigate Greisen’s February 3, 2013 authorization of the PIT maneuver. In his letter, Hanken also told Greisen, “You are hereby notified and ordered not to discuss this matter with anyone except your spouse, significant other, or your attorney.” Hanken imposed a two-week suspension on Greisen.

On August 26, 2013, Greisen appealed his disciplinary sanction to the City’s Personnel Review Committee. The Personnel Review Committee ordered that “the City Manager retract, and the Scappoose City Council oversee the retraction, of all discipline issued to Chief Greisen.”

Hanken didn’t stop, however, and began an investigation into whether Greisen had created a hostile work environment in the Department. An independent investigation later concluded that the allegation that Greisen harassed employees or maintained a hostile work environment was not supported by the evidence.

Hanken then launched an investigation into whether Greisen violated the City’s financial policies by using unauthorized bank accounts. Based on information provided by Hanken, the local newspaper ran a story with the headline, “Greisen’s use of unauthorized account probed” and depicted a spread of several hundred dollar bills. Hanken provided the photograph of the bills. Hanken later admitted that his charges against Greisen were false.

Hanken eventually resigned because of the dispute with Greisen. Just before he resigned, an interim city manager terminated Greisen, based largely on Hanken’s charges. Greisen then sued, alleging a variety of claims against Hanken and the City. When a jury awarded Greisen $1,117,488 in economic damages and $3,000,000 in non-economic damages, the City filed a motion to overturn the verdict.

A federal court upheld the verdict. The Court found that “Hanken, acting with retaliatory motive based on Greisen’s protected conduct, initiated three meritless investigations of Greisen in quick successive order, gave knowingly false information and misleading photographic evidence to the news media during an official investigation in violation of City policy, and expressly prohibited Greisen from presenting to the news media his side of the story. These actions set in motion a series of acts by others (including by the news media and later by the interim city manager) that a reasonable jury could find naturally led to Hanken’s economic and non-economic damages. Further, based on Hanken’s prior experience with local governments, it is a reasonable inference that Hanken was aware that these damages to Greisen would be the natural and proximate result of Hanken’s actions and that he intended these results.

“After the City of Scappoose terminated his employment in May 2014, Greisen unsuccessfully applied for more than 200 positions related to law enforcement across the country. Greisen was approximately 50 years old at the time his employment as Police Chief was terminated. Although Hanken cross-examined Greisen’s expert witness, Hanken did not offer his own expert witness or present any alternative calculations of economic damages. The jury’s conclusion regarding Greisen’s economic damages is not contrary to the clear weight of the evidence, grossly excessive or monstrous, or based only on speculation or guesswork. It is affirmed.”

Greisen v. Hanken, 2017 WL 1967499 (D. Or. 2017).