Man claims Strasburg violated firing procedures
By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- A former Strasburg police officer claims the town violated its own procedures when he tried to contest his termination.
Aaron H. Lewis petitioned the Shenandoah County Circuit Court asking a judge to appoint a neutral, third member to a panel normally formed to discuss grievances brought forth by town employees. Leesburg attorney William M. Wittman, of Simms Showers LLP, filed the petition in the court Feb. 10 on behalf of Lewis, of 124 Fadeley Ave., Edinburg.
The petition asks the court to enter a declaratory judgment against the respondents identified in the filing as the Town of Strasburg and Tim Sutherly, the chief of the police department. Sutherly and the town have not responded to the petition but Nathan H. Miller, of Miller, Earle & Shanks PLLC, appeared in the court March 23 to represent the respondents as the appointed legal council for Strasburg.
The petition gives little information as to reasons for Lewis' firing from the police department. But the action may have come as a result of Lewis' involvement in the execution of a search warrant by a SWAT team in December 2009, according to documents filed with the petition.
Lewis submitted to Sutherly and the town his grievance procedure request as to the termination of his employment by Strasburg and the police department, according to the filing. The filing includes copies of the letters which date back as early as Feb. 12, 2010, sent to then Town Manager Kevin Fauber and Sutherly. Lewis states in the letter he did not receive a grievance form after Sutherly sent a memorandum to the petitioner dated Jan. 14, 2010, outlining proceedings against him.
Over the next several months letters filed with the petition indicate parties could not agree on a third, neutral member to sit on the grievance panel. A letter dated Nov. 8, 2010, indicates the grievance process had gone through three steps, with Lewis' termination found appropriate at each, before reaching the panel stage.
A letter dated Aug.2, 2011, from Wittman to a "Ms. Witness Doe," in Strasburg, states his law firm represents the Strasburg officer "in a matter that arose out of a Strasburg Police Department SWAT team search warrant that was enforced on December 18, 2009."
"Petitioner desires to complete the grievance process with the Respondents, but needs the assistance of this Honorable Court," the petition states. "The parties have experienced difficulty in forming the three member panel and in having the two respective parties' choose a third member as required under [the manual]."
The petition cites the grievance procedure in the Strasburg "Personnel Policies Manual" which requires the appointment of a third member to a panel who would address an employee's complaint. Lewis also has requested in the petition that the court require the respondents to provide the petitioner the subject grievance record and appropriate police investigative documents permitted under the manual's policies.
Lewis asks the court to grant him the power to subpoena and issue summons to require witnesses to attend the panel hearing. The petition states Lewis has tried to contact relevant witnesses by telephone voice mail as well as regular and certified mail but received a response from only one person so far. Lewis states in the petition that the manual allows the person who files the grievance and town representatives to call upon witnesses for a hearing.
"These witnesses will include law enforcement and alleged suspects in a court authorized search warrant," the petition states.
The petition cites the manual as stating that the town "'shall present its evidence first in grievances challenging a disciplinary action shall have the burden of persuasion on such issue.'" The respondents set up an alternative grievance procedure under the town's code of ordinances which the petitioner claims is not consistent with Virginia code. The petitioner also states he "reasonably believes the Town Council did not fully comply with the provisions of VA Code ... by failing to certify its grievance procedure '... in writing to be in compliance by city, town or county attorney, and the chief administrative officer of the locality, and such certification filed with the clerk of the circuit court ..."
"As a result, Respondents' have denied the Petitioner his rights under VA Code ... to full discovery as required ... which states in part "Absent just cause, all documents, as defined in the Rules of the Supreme Court, related to the actions of the grieved shall be made available, upon request by the opposing party in a timely fashion."