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City settles with officer for $375,000

 


Grand Coulee’s city council last week approved a $375,000 settlement with long-time police officer Sean Cook, who filed suit last fall, claiming the city had not provided public records he had requested, violating the state’s Public Records Act.

The financial part of the settlement was outlined in three parts:

• a lump-sum payment of $175,000 for settlement of Cook’s public records claims;

• a $125,000 settlement for Cook’s tort, disability, discrimination and employment-related claims against the city; and

• a payment of $75,000 to Cook’s attorneys, the law firm of MacDonald, Hoague & Bayless.

A city spokesperson stated that Grand Coulee’s insurance carrier would pay $100,000 of the total amount, but the remaining $275,000 would be paid out of the city’s general fund.

As part of the agreement, Cook voluntarily resigned from his position as a police officer.

Most of Cook’s records requests were made when Mel Hunt was chief of police. Hunt retired Oct. 1, 2014.

Cook filed suit against the city in Grant County Superior Court on Oct. 27, 2014.

In outlining the nature of the case, the filings stated the suit “arises out of repeated and often fruitless efforts to obtain records.”

The suit states that in November 2011, Cook lodged a “complaint against Chief of Police Mel Hunt in regard to several inappropriate sexual comments Hunt and Sgt. John Tufts made about Cook’s wife and daughter. Afterward, Chief Hunt subjected officer Cook to heightened scrutiny and pursued baseless allegations of misconduct against him.”

Cook, from December 2012 to May 2014, made 12 separate public records requests because he felt that these records would show that Chief Hunt was retaliating against him.

Some records requests were provided, but many were ignored by the city and dismissed by City Clerk Carol Boyce and Mayor Chris Christopherson, the suit alleged.

Other record requests included any instances where officers had to use force in the performance of their duties.

When making requests for public documents, Cook was sent a letter stating that the city would provide the documents within 15 days. Later, in many instances, Cook was advised by the city that the “request was closed.”

Cook’s requests included one for any notes or recordings taken during an investigation that concluded in a report issued by the city’s risk management firm detailing infighting between the chief of police and the mayor, charges and counter charges of nepotism and favoritism, micromanagement by the mayor and a breakdown in authority fueled by a lack of respect, personality conflicts, and an inability to work together for the good of the city.

Cook said the city didn’t respond to his request for those records, which he knew existed because he had a copy of the 2013 report, the face of which listed the documents as attachments.

As a result of the agreement, Cook has withdrawn all requests for public records.

Officer Cook and his wife, Heidi, both signed the agreement.

Also as part of the settlement, Cook and the city have agreed not to make disparaging comments about each other.

The city council approved the settlement in a vote 4-0 last Tuesday night and the mayor signed it.

The agreement further states: “It is expressly understood and agreed that entry into this agreement is a compromise of disputes and no party admits any liability to the other party as a result of entry into this agreement.”

The agreement discharges any liability on the part of all elected officials and employees and the city’s insurance carrier, including Alan Key, the author of the “Key Report,” that was issued a couple of years ago outlining issues of controversy in the police department.

Tuesday’s agreement was approved by council after the city met with its attorney, Charles Zimmerman, in executive session. Four of the five council members were present.

Zimmerman said Monday that the records requests had to do with activities within the police department.

The settlement agreement particulars were reached after a full day of mediation that was conducted in Seattle on May 18.

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