Ex-transit officer files wrongful firing claim

Staff writerMarch 28, 2014 

A Lakewood police officer who worked off-duty for Pierce Transit has accused the transit system’s acting public safety chief of wrongfully firing him after the officer reported his concerns about the chief’s leadership.

Sgt. Anders Estes filed a claim against Pierce Transit and Pierce County this month, seeking damages of $650,000.

Estes, who was a transit command staff member, accused acting Chief Bill Cassio of “compromising public safety” and abusing “the power of his office.”

Cassio has been acting public safety chief since then-Chief Rod Baker was put on paid administrative leave Nov. 19 while an outside investigator examined issues of payment to some outsourced officers that were raised by an internal audit.

Pierce Transit fired Baker on Monday, and Cassio will continue as acting chief.

Estes said Cassio retaliated against him by firing him Feb. 21, a few hours after Estes emailed his concerns about the acting chief to Doug Middleton, Pierce Transit’s chief operations officer.

Besides Pierce Transit, Estes also filed a claim against Pierce County because Cassio is an employee of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. His March 10 tort claim is a preliminary step to filing a lawsuit.

Estes works full time as a patrol sergeant for Lakewood police.

Pierce Transit spokeswoman Carol Mitchell and Cassio both declined comment on the claim.

In a memo to Estes three days before he was fired, Cassio outlined “expectations” for Estes that if not met would result in demotion or termination.

“Since I have been put in the acting Chief role, I have found you to be openly defiant of me and this position’s authority,” Cassio wrote. The memo is part of Estes’ claim against Pierce Transit obtained by The News Tribune through a public records request.

Cassio said Estes submitted daily reports that “include sarcastic and/or unprofessional remarks.”

“You have repeatedly refused to speak with me, though I need to be able to call you and talk with you as the need arises,” Cassio said.

Sheriff Paul Pastor said he couldn’t comment on pending legal action. But the sheriff said by email through spokesman Ed Troyer that Cassio “is an outstanding employee, one of the best supervisors within the Sheriff’s department.”

In an email to Middleton Feb. 21, Estes said Cassio took several background investigations away from off-duty Tacoma police officers and gave them to sheriff’s deputies, even though the Lakewood officers had received the training Piece County prefers. Among other issues, Estes said Cassio removed him from approving payroll.

“I tried to point out to them that Bill Cassio made some changes that compromise accountability as far as I’m concerned,” Estes said in an interview with The News Tribune.

Estes also said he filed the claim because “I was making a pretty fair wage.”

“I’ll probably have to work a few years longer than what I originally planned,” said Estes, 49. “I think Pierce Transit and Pierce County needs to reimburse me for that.”

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