HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission has approved a negotiated settlement with former High Springs Police Chief James Steven Holley. This agreement would settle a case filed in the United States District Court, Northern District of Florida, Gainesville Division. The complaint was filed Aug. 19, 2015 against the City of High Springs and City Manager Edwin Booth, “in his individual and official capacity as City Manager.”
In his complaint, Holley stated that he had been hired on April 1, 2004, as a police officer. He was promoted to sergeant on Jan. 27, 2012 and to chief three days later on Jan. 30. Holley was terminated as Chief of Police on Feb. 27, 2014. Records indicate Holley did not return to work after a 30-day administrative leave, thereby vacating his employment with the City.
Holley based his lawsuit on three basic areas of law, one of which was his belief that he was being retaliated against after he provided unfavorable testimony against the City of High Springs on Oct. 14, 2013. In that case, the lawsuit was filed by a private citizen against the City and former High Springs Police Chief Jim Troiano.
In his complaint, Holley alleged immediate retaliation as on Dec. 11, 2013, he was excluded by Booth from negotiations over the labor contract with the City on behalf of the officers and dispatchers. In response, the City alleged Holley had been excluded from the meeting because, at that time, he was management and not eligible to act as a union representative.
A series of conversations, memoranda and letters which led up to and through Holley's 30-day administrative leave were also listed in Holley's complaint. Holley's contention was that he did not request the leave, but was told to take it by Booth.
“Holley was actually given the 30-day leave as a face-saving opportunity to be absent from work while he considered the City's offer to return to the sergeant's position or retire from the police department,” said Booth.
In a conversation Booth and Holley had just before Holley went on leave, Booth contends he explained why he thought reorganization of the department was due and why he believed Holley should go back to his previous position as sergeant. Booth contends he offered Holley the same salary he made as chief of police.
Holley's complaint supports the fact that the conversation took place, but in it Holley contends reorganization of the department was not necessary.
In addition to Holley's complaint that he was being retaliated against because of his testimony, he alleged race discrimination and indicated that he was “removed from his position so that Antoine Sheppard, an African American male, could replace him.” The complaint says further that “Sheppard was substantially less qualified for the position than Plaintiff [Holley] and had less experience but…was paid the same salary” that Holley had been paid to do the same job.
Departmental records show that Sheppard served in the capacity of acting chief when Holley was on vacation or was unavailable to supervise his staff. His replacement was Holley's choice on those occasions.
The third area of concern featured in Holley's complaint was for defamation. The suit claims that the City and City Manager caused the publishing of false statements about him with the intention to harm Holley and his reputation. The complaint asked for damages for slander and read as follows:
“As a result of the defamatory statements, Plaintiff [Holley] has suffered extreme humiliation, embarrassment, and mental anguish, pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of consortium, lost capacity for enjoyment of life, loss of business and profits, loss of reputation, good standing in the community and other tangible and intangible damages. These damages have occurred in the past, present and are reasonably expected to continue into the future.”
“The City's insurance company, Public Risk Insurance (PRIA) went to court only one time during the course of defending against the complaint,” said Booth. At that time Booth says he was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice. “There was no evidence I acted outside of my official capacity,” Booth said.
The complaint does not list the dollar amount Holley requested, but the minimum amount allowed in this type of action is for damages in excess of $75,000. Ultimately, the insurance company's attorney, Leonard Dietzen, informed City staff that PRIA had already expended considerable money litigating Holley's claim and had tentatively negotiated a settlement with Holley for $75,000.
Commissioners approved the settlement and the settlement amount at their May 26 meeting. Although City Staff were told Holley had agreed to the settlement amount, to date no signed agreement has been received by the City.
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