A $1.5 million claim filed against the city of Maricopa by terminated police sergeant Aki Stant has been moved from Maricopa County Court to Pinal County Court.
“The city’s attorney asked for the case to be moved to Pinal County, and the request was granted,” said Stant’s lawyer, James Cool.
The claim against the city was originally filed on Nov. 16, 2010, and alleges Stant’s constitutional due process rights were violated when they terminated his employment on June 21, 2010, for failure to comply with an internal investigation into the actions of one of his subordinates, Maricopa Police Officer Elliot Sneezy.
Sneezy was being investigated for sending an e-mail while off duty to city council questioning the police department’s lack of an investigation into Maricopa Police Sgt. James Hudspeth.
Stant told Maricopa Police Department Internal Investigator Mike Burns in two separate interviews regarding Sneezy’s actions that he needed his Police Association attorney, Martin Bihn, to speak to the city’s attorney, Dennis Fitzgibbons, before he could proceed with the interview.
“Failure to comply with an internal investigation is grounds for termination, even without any previous disciplinary action,” said Maricopa Police Chief Kirk Fitch at the city’s merit board hearing, regarding Stant’s termination.
During that hearing Stant said his reasoning for wanting the two lawyers to talk prior to him answering any question was because all the information he received about the incident in question came through conversations with Bihn.
Bihn said in his testimony at the hearing that he instructed his client to have the city’s lawyer contact him so they could clear up any confidentiality issues. “I thought it would be a quick phone call and a simple fix,” Bihn said.
In a tape recording of the first interview, Burns asked Stant if he had spoken to Sneezy. Stant’s taped response was that Burns should contact Bihn, and then Stant would be more than willing to answer any questions. The interview ended with Burns saying he wanted the phone number.
While Burns did not demand Stant answer the questions during the first interview, when he returned to interview him a second time at the instruction of Fitch, he did read him the department’s policy stating that all public safety staff must answer questions presented to them in internal investigations.
The day following this second interview Stant was placed on leave and ultimately terminated from his position.
Cool asserts in the claim that during the second interview the investigation had turned into one against his client for failure to answer questions, but that Stant was not made aware his job was in jeopardy or permitted a departmental representative. Furthermore, Stant’s lawyer alleges that his client was never provided with a written notice of investigation, facts alleged, nature of the investigation or nature of alleged misconduct.
Cool states these omissions by the city in Stant’s termination are a violation of Arizona Revised Statute Section 38-1101, which outlines specific procedural safeguards that must be observed by a public safety agency in dealing with an employee it believes could be subject to discipline. He adds that the city’s actions violated the Arizona Constitution’s due rights process, which states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
In the claim, Cool alleges the city acted with an “evil mind” and consciously disregarded his client.
According to Cool the transfer of the case has slowed down the legal process, and a timeline for action is currently not available. “I do not know what the holdup is. I assume the judge has a busy docket and will issue a briefing schedule as soon as possible. If the judge does not, the city's attorney and I will jointly request a briefing schedule be issued or a scheduling conference be set,” Cool said.
Editor's note: Stant does not reside or work in Maricopa County.