EVERETT — A former Everett police lieutenant who was fired in 2016 over a DUI arrest is alleging wrongful termination. He also is seeking back pay.
Jimmy Phillips, 62, in February sent the city a claim for damages, a precursor to a lawsuit. The document recently was obtained by The Daily Herald through a public records request.
Phillips says the city discriminated against him because of his disability of alcoholism. Citing emotional distress, he is seeking “past and future lost wages,” among other damages, according to the claim. A dollar amount was not listed.
The city declined to comment for this story.
Phillips’ attorney, Sean Phelan, of Seattle, says the police department should have made accommodations to keep Phillips employed during the early stages of his recovery. She says there’s a larger issue at stake regarding how public safety agencies should address substance abuse among employees with stressful, dangerous jobs.
Phillips wants to “go back to serving the community that he cares about,” she said. “He has an illness that he has taken affirmative steps to address.”
At the time of his firing, Phillips’ salary was about $130,600. He’d been with the department for nearly 26 years.
His certification to work as a police officer in Washington lapsed this February, because of the break in his employment in law enforcement, according to state records.
The arrest came in August 2015, when an off-duty Phillips crashed his truck near Kennewick. He reportedly told a Washington State Patrol trooper that he was drinking whiskey while driving home from Colorado. A breath-alcohol test showed him at .207, more than double the legal limit.
The prosecution was deferred for five years, meaning Phillips won’t be convicted unless he has more legal trouble. Court records show that he complied with a requirement to install an ignition interlock. The court case last was updated this past October, noting that Phillips completed treatment.
The city declined Phillips’ request for a waiver that would have allowed him to operate a patrol car without an ignition device, according to public records. The city also declined to permit Phillips to catch rides with other officers as needed while his license was restricted.
After an internal investigation, Police Chief Dan Templeman deemed Phillips unfit for duty.
“Your behavior erodes the public trust in its appearance of hypocrisy,” Templeman wrote in the termination letter.
The chief in particular took issue with Phillips’ conduct during the arrest, including approaching a trooper while holding a personal firearm and handing over his entire wallet, meaning his badge was visible along with his driver’s license.
The behavior was the result of Phillips’ addiction, Phelan said.
“Before he was terminated, the department really did nothing to explore any possible accommodations that could have enabled him to continue working,” she said. “One of the most obvious ones would have been to just allow him to go on a leave of absence for a period of about seven months, and then the restriction on his license would have been removed.”
Phillips has applied, so far unsuccessfully, for civilian positions with Everett, she said.