A former Lakewood police officer fired as part of the Skeeter Manos embezzlement mess has sued the city and his former supervisors, contending he was terminated for his union activism and the fact he’s gay.
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle scheduled trial in the wrongful termination case brought by Brian Wurts for May 2015.
The city, in a reply filed by its attorney, Michael Bolasina, denies it discriminated against Wurts and asks that his case be dismissed.
Aside from the city, Wurts names as defendants former City Manager Andrew Neiditz, former Assistant City Manager Choi Halladay, Police Chief Brett Farrar and police employees Mike Zaro, John Unfred and Heidi Hoffman.
Wurts seeks unspecified damages for wrongful termination, emotional distress and what he believes were violations of his First Amendment rights, among other things.
He filed the lawsuit in February.
Wurts was fired on Dec. 28, 2012, after eight years with the Lakewood Police Department.
Police brass said at the time that an internal investigation showed Wurts, who served as president of the rank-and-file police union, most likely knew his good friend Manos was embezzling money meant to benefit the widows and children of four Lakewood officers killed in the line of duty and likely covered for him.
Manos also was accused of stealing money from the guild.
Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Gregory Richards were gunned down in a Parkland coffee shop at the beginning of their shift in November 2009. Their killer later was shot dead by a Seattle police officer during a manhunt.
“You crossed the line to the point where you became complicit in (Manos’) conduct,” Wurts’ termination letter stated.
Manos ultimately pleaded guilty to federal charges relating to stealing more than $150,000 from the charity and guild and was sentenced to 33 months in prison.
Wurts denied at the time that he knew what Manos was doing, and reiterated that contention in his lawsuit.
“Until the announcement of the charges against Mr. Manos and his arrest on Feb. 8, 2012, Mr. Wurts had no knowledge of Mr. Manos’ crimes,” his lawsuit states. “Mr. Wurts cooperated with the FBI investigation of Mr. Manos and was interviewed in the course of that investigation.”
Wurts was never arrested or charged with a crime.
What really got him fired, his lawsuit states, was the combination of his sexual orientation and his vocal activism on behalf of the Lakewood Police Independent Guild.
Wurts contends city officials resented his strong and often public stands on behalf of Lakewood cops.
He also argues the Police Department unfairly interjected his sexual orientation into its review of his relationship with Manos, subjecting him to treatment his heterosexual peers would not have had to endure.
“Mr. Wurts was subjected to inappropriate and harassing investigations into his personal life and unfounded allegations of improper sexual conduct,” his lawsuit states.
In its answer to the lawsuit, Lakewood admits it initiated an investigation “based on allegations from a fellow police officer that plaintiff was inviting or engaging in sexual relations with other officers while on duty, or facilitating sexual encounters for on-duty police officers.”
The city denied its goal was discrimination or retaliation based on sexual orientation.
Lakewood, without elaboration, also denied firing Wurts because of his union activities.