Former Richmond police officer sues city and Chief Magnus for wrongful termination, sexual harassment
on April 9, 2015
A former Richmond police officer is suing the City of Richmond and Chief of Police Chris Magnus for wrongful termination, claiming that he was discriminated against after he reported to his supervisor that Magnus allegedly made sexual advances towards him.
Thomas Hauschild, 44, was a police officer with the city for over eight years. According to a civil suit filed with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco on April 3, Hauschild began duty as an officer in July 2005, and, due to positive performance reviews, was selected to be a firearms instructor and a member of the SWAT team.
According to the lawsuit, Hauschild was assigned to a surveillance and protection detail outside of the private residence of Magnus and his husband after Magnus received threats from the community. Magnus said on Thursday that the surveillance detail, which was posted in 2009, was a response to what the investigation division at the time had deemed “credible threats” involving the son of a neighbor who used methamphetamine and who had allegedly concocted a plan to break into Magnus’ home. Magnus said that the neighbor’s son “had come to the conclusion that, as a police officer, I must have a bunch of guns in the house.”
In the suit, Hauschild alleges that one evening during his surveillance shift, Magnus, while “dressed in questionable civilian attire” and walking his dog, approached Hauschild and began touching him “inappropriately on his arm” and rubbing him “on his upper leg, in an obvious sexual manner.” Hauschild also alleges in the lawsuit that Magnus had called him on his personal phone on numerous occasions, which “made [Hauschild] feel uncomfortable.”
Hauschild reported the incident to his supervising lieutenant, according to the lawsuit. Hauschild then alleges in the lawsuit that Magnus began “a pattern of retaliatory conduct,” including denying him overtime and training, refusing to select him for a sergeant or homicide division position, removing him from the SWAT team and subjecting him to a “biased” internal investigation.
Hauschild was terminated from the police department in December 2013 following the internal investigation. Both the city manager’s office and the police chief have stated that Hauschild was terminated for multiple serious acts of misconduct, including domestic violence and weapons-related violations.
Hauschild’s attorney, David M. Poore of the law firm Brown Poore LLP, did not return calls for comment.
Magnus, who is openly gay, dismissed the lawsuit as “baseless.” In a statement posted Sunday to the Richmond Police Department’s Facebook page, Magnus wrote: “This officer and his attorney… apparently decided to exploit the fact that as a police chief who happens to be gay, I would be ‘vulnerable’ to this particular type of accusation.” He called Hauschild’s allegations of sexual harassment – the first such allegation in Magnus’ tenure as Richmond police chief – a “new low when it comes to bogus claims.”
“He’s reaching to the bottom of the barrel to find something to justify a lawsuit,” Magnus said Thursday over the phone. “The city has to make personnel decisions that people don’t always like, and this particular decision was made by the city manager. The former officer now has the opportunity to take it to arbitration and legal action, which is his choice.”
The internal investigation began in September, 2012, when Hauschild was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence during a dispute with his ex-wife, according to the Contra Costa Times. During the arrest, deputies also confiscated eight unregistered firearms from Hauschild’s home, the suit states. Hauschild was placed on administrative leave, and the police department conducted an internal investigation into Hauschild’s conduct, during which time the department found that Hauschild had been the aggressor in the domestic violence dispute and that he had defaced property by placing a condom on his ex-wife’s front door, the suit says. When Hauschild denied the charges during an interview with the internal affairs investigator, the department further determined that Hauschild had lied to the investigator, according to the lawsuit.
In his suit, Hauschild disputes the investigation’s findings, claiming that his ex-wife struck him during a child custody exchange and that the unregistered firearms were purchased in private sales from other Richmond police officers, whom Hauschild says were at fault for failing to register the sales. Hauschild says he was terminated “without an adequate showing of good cause, and for merely being arrested for a misdemeanor crime” that occurred more than a year before his termination, according to the suit.
The city will retain an independent investigator to conduct a full review of the case, as required by state law, according to Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay.
“I must keep an open mind in light of my position as City Manager, but Chief Magnus will continue to have my full confidence pending the outcome of the investigation,” Lindsay said in a statement. “I must say that given the age of the claims and the fact [that] they are filed by an officer who was fired and is, therefore, biased … this lawsuit appears facially meritless.”
This is not the first time Chief Magnus has been sued by Richmond police officers. Magnus, who has otherwise been widely recognized as a champion of effective community policing, wrote in his post on the police department’s Facebook page, “One of the things I’ve unfortunately had to become used to as a police chief is getting sued.” In another high-profile case, seven high-ranking black Richmond police officers sued the City of Richmond for racial discrimination in 2007, alleging that they were blocked from advancement in the department and that Magnus and former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter, both of whom are white, made racist jokes. After a three-month civil trial, a Contra Costa County jury sided with the city in 2012. That lawsuit cost the city about $4 million in legal fees.
Poore has also served as attorney to Shawn Pickett, one of the seven plaintiffs in the racial discrimination suit against the city.
The city and Magnus have retained attorneys Arthur Hartinger and Geoffrey Spellberg of the Oakland-based law firm Meyers Nave. Hartinger and Spellberg are the same attorneys who defended the city in the racial discrimination case.
“We will vigorously defend this case,” Hartinger said in a statement, “and also seek sanctions against Mr. Hauschild for what we expect to be proven to be a frivolous lawsuit.”
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