A former sergeant has sued the Lakewood Police Department and its top brass, alleging wrongful termination, retaliation and defamation.
Michael Noel also contends Police Chief Bret Farrar and Assistant Chief Mike Zaro violated a collective-bargaining agreement and deprived him up of his due-process rights as a public employee.
Noel and his wife filed the lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court in May. It recently was moved to U.S. District Court after the city said Noel raised concerns that his U.S. constitutional rights were violated.
Farrar and Zaro declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Noel joined the department as a detective in 2004 and later was promoted to sergeant. He previously worked at the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department for 20 years.
Noel was fired March 2 for insubordination, untruthfulness and failing to obey all laws.
He’d spent the year on paid administrative leave as he was investigated for different allegations, according to the lawsuit.
He first was put on paid administrative leave after he and two other officers were involved in the shooting death of a 47-year-old woman Feb. 14, 2011. Carolyn Moran-Hernandez was shot after she allegedly pointed a gun at the officers during a domestic violence call at her mobile home.
The leave is standard procedure when officers use deadly force.
The shooting was ruled justified and Noel was cleared to return to duty.
His lawsuit contends he was quickly put back on paid administrative leave after he missed a debriefing on the deadly shooting. Noel’s attorney, Nelson Fraley, said Noel was attending his psychological evaluation when the debriefing took place.
“From that point on, he never came off administrative leave,” Fraley said. “We are still trying to figure out what he did wrong.”
The lawsuit contends Noel was put on paid administrative leave again in April 2011 “for attempting to understand the allegations against him.”
The suit says he was denied his rights under his union’s collective bargaining agreement with the department. The suit also states the department ordered Noel to undergo a second psychological examination.
The department alleged Noel wasn’t truthful during the second exam, and tried to record the session, Fraley said.
In the suit, Noel takes issue with Zaro, alleging he was appointed assistant chief despite having less experience than other members of the department who applied for the position.
Noel didn’t apply for the position, but nevertheless felt Zaro’s appointment “was a bit odd,” Fraley said.
There also was growing resentment against Noel in the department “for being upfront and being blunt” when expressing his opinions, Fraley said.
“It seems to me there was an avenue to go after him and it was pursued,” the attorney said.
Noel has appealed his firing and would like to work in law enforcement again, Fraley said.
“He loved his job and wouldn’t hesitate to serve the citizens of this community again – if there was an administration change,” the attorney said.