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Federal judge rules in favor of Sutherly over Stickley firing
By Preston Knight - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Former town police Lt. Scott Stickley has lost his federal appeal of a 2009 U.S. District Court decision on a lawsuit he filed against the town and other defendants.
In a decision issued Monday in the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Senior District Judge David A. Faber ruled in favor of Police Chief Tim Sutherly, former Town Manager Kevin Fauber and the town by affirming the district court's ruling to grant summary judgment for the defendants. Stickley filed a lawsuit accusing them of violating his due process, equal protection and First Amendment rights in February 2009, and the district court's decision came in October of that year.
The appeal ensued in December 2009.
Stickley joined the Strasburg Police Department in 1996, and sought the chief's post when Marshall Robinson retired in 2006, court records state. The council ultimately selected Sutherly, and the new chief was accused of making comments in the community of his intentions to dismiss Stickley, records state.
By May 2008, Stickley was demoted to a patrol officer position, and was approached shortly afterward by Carl Rinker, a council member at the time, and asked about the demotion. Rinker then talked to Sutherly about the situation, records state, and the chief placed Stickley on administrative leave while the department investigated whether he violated regulations by going outside the chain of command in talking to Rinker.
Stickley eventually went before a board of inquiry, convened at Sutherly's request, and in June 2008 the panel determined Stickley should be terminated for two infractions, including insubordination, records state. The lawsuit was filed about seven months later.
In Monday's ruling, Faber states that Stickley's right to speak on his demotion was not clearly established, entitling Sutherly and Fauber to qualified immunity, and that the officer failed to show that either the chief or town manager possessed the final authority required to hold the municipality liable.
"Defendants bring to the court's attention the fact that the Town of Strasburg retains the final decisionmaking authority with respect to the Chief of Police's actions," he states.
"Additionally, the fact that Sutherly had Stickley come before a Board of Inquiry to decide the question of Stickley's alleged insubordination only strengthens defendants' contention that Sutherly did not reserve to himself final decisionmaking authority with respect to employee discipline and termination issues."