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Lawsuit filed by former police officer against department, city scheduled for jury trial

Local

POCATELLO — A lawsuit filed against the city of Pocatello and several of its current and past officials has been scheduled for a jury trial.

The lawsuit, filed by former Pocatello Police Lt. John Walker in 2015, alleges numerous rights violations, according to documents obtained by EastIdahoNews.com.

Walker worked for the department from 1996 until his retirement earlier this year. Between 2007 and 2015, he was subject to free speech violations, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other violations, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit names the city of Pocatello, Mayor Brian Blad, former police chief Scott Marchand and current police chief Roger Schei as defendants.

Issues began in 2007, the lawsuit alleges, when Walker was promoted to sergeant after “scoring very well” on his civil service test. The promotion saw Walker transferred from the patrol division to the detective division. Marchand was moved to patrol.

Marchand accused Walker of cheating on the test and an internal investigation was launched. That investigation exonerated Walker of cheating, the lawsuit says.

Later that year, Walker was tasked with assisting an investigation into the access and sharing of sexually inappropriate materials using the city’s computer system. Marchand, the lawsuit alleges, was among the officers tied to the investigation.

Due to his involvement in the investigation, Walker claims he was “unfairly targeted” with criticism by co-workers who were under investigation, including Marchand.

J.R. Miller, the police chief at the time, resigned in Oct. 2011. The lawsuit alleges that he was pushed out of office by members of the department.

Walker openly supported Miller and voiced his opinions within the department. The lawsuit claims that Marchand accused Walker of being involved in “some type of conspiracy” with the outgoing chief.

During this time, a co-worker told Walker “they were going to see to it that he was no longer employed” at the department, the lawsuit further states.

Walker informed his supervisor of the threat, but elected not to request a formal investigation for fear that would incur “further retaliations.”

In June 2012, Blad named Marchand the department’s new chief.

Walker tested for a promotion to captain later that year. Despite recording the department’s top score, the lawsuit claims, Walker was passed over for the promotion. He believes Marchand would not sign off on his promotion.

Walker was instead moved from the detective division back to patrol division, losing his office and workday schedule.

In June 2013, while on a work break, Walker drove his patrol vehicle to visit with a recently retired officer. The two had a personal conversation regarding concerns within the department — including a “bud club” of protection among department administration and inappropriate use of internal investigations.

On Oct. 3, Walker received notification of a due process hearing and that the department was considering firing him, according to the lawsuit.

Among evidence used during the hearing was dash cam video of his conversation with the retired officer. Walker was not allowed to present evidence on his own behalf or cross-examine witnesses, the lawsuit says.

Walker later learned that the department had violated its own policies by reviewing his dash cam video in search of reasons to discipline him.

Rather than being fired, Walker received a written reprimand upon completion of the hearing. Walker was not allowed to appeal the decision.

Just over one week later, Walker received an “unacceptable” rating during a performance evaluation based on the reprimand.

“Although (the) plaintiff had already been disciplined for his actions related to the private conversation that had been videotaped, his supervisor gave him an ‘unacceptable’ rating in one category on his performance evaluation for the very same reasons he was given the written reprimand,” the lawsuit says.

The combination of a written reprimand and the poor performance evaluation excluded Walker from consideration for any promotion.

In Jan. 2015, Walker applied for a the Director of Public Safety position at Idaho State University. With a PhD in Public Policy and Administration and two decades of police experience, Walker believed he had a great chance of getting the position.

After he was named among seven finalists for the position, the lawsuit claims, then-ISU president Arthur Vailas received calls from Marchand, Blad and Schei, a captain at the time, urging the university against hiring Walker. They referred to Walker as a “rogue employee,” according to the lawsuit.

“In addition to being labeled as a ‘rogue employee,’ on information and belief, Marchand, Blad, and Schei communicated false and slanderous information … to interfere with Plaintiff’s application,” the lawsuit says.

Walker was eliminated as a candidate for the position.

The lawsuit alleges six violations:

  • a violation of procedural due process
  • a violation of free speech
  • intentional interference with a prospective economic advantage
  • defamation
  • intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • negligent infliction of emotional distress

Walker has requested compensation for general and punitive damages.

Pocatello spokeswoman Marlise Irby tells EastIdahoNews.com the city does not comment on pending litigation.

A trial date has been set for Oct. 3.

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