The three-member Civil Service Commission considering whether former Enumclaw Police Lt. Eric Sortland should get his job back decided Tuesday that his 2011 firing was "warranted."
The Commission heard two days of testimony from various city and police personnel in late June. (See stories from and of the Commission hearing).
Among the Commission's conclusions was that the city had just cause to discipline Sortland -- both in his initial 10-day suspension that was issued shortly before his later termination. (Scroll down for a timeline of pertinent events.)
"The Commission has considered whether demotion or other level of discipline other than termination is warranted. Based on the totality of the evidence before the Commission, termination was warranted following Sortland's conduct on August 4, 2011."
On that date, a confrontation ensued between Chief Jim Zoll and Sortland which the city has held as the final example of insubordination by Sortland and in which Sortland alleged Zoll had assaulted him.
The decision continued, "Sortland's conduct was not to the standards of performance expected of an officer with over 25 years of law enforcement experience. Further, a supervisory and management officer has responsibility because of that management rank. Sortland failed in this regard."
John Kugler, the attorney who representing the city of Enumclaw in the hearing said, "the city certainly agrees with the decision and believes justice was done."
Mayor Liz Reynolds said in an email to Patch, that the determination of justifiable termination carries many philosophical messages, including that the administration will not tolerate inappropriate behavior, and "our citizenry deserves a law enforcement agency that is professional and handles itself with high integrity and honesty."
She continued, "I am happy for the city as a whole, we can now put this behind us, reorganize the department and move forward in positive manner for the community of Enumclaw."
Brett Purtzer, who represents Sortland, was not in his office Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. According to Kugler, Sortland can send an appeal to King County Superior Court within 30 days of the decision. The appeal wouldn't overturn the findings but would ask the court to review the hearing's proceedings for possible errors. The 12-page decision lays out the causes for the city's action pretty well, however, said Kugler.
Timeline of Events:
April 1985: Eric Sortland joins the Enumclaw Police Department.
1997: Sortland is promoted to lieutenant. Over the course of his career in Enumclaw, he had received numerous commendations and recognitions.
October 2004: Chief Jim Zoll came to head EPD.
2007: Sortland was given a five-day suspension by Zoll for giving his duty rifle to a corrections officer during a high-risk incident.
January 2008: The Enumclaw Police Officer's Association advocated for Sortland to then City Administrator Mark Bauer that the suspension was not warranted and alleged it was Zoll who had a personal dislike of Sortland that caused him to issue the discipline. Bauer directed Zoll to improve communications within the department with both lieutenants and reduced Sortland's suspension to a reprimand. During the hearing, there were allegations that Sortland had initiated the letter written by the guild and strong-armed officers into joining his 'camp.'
November 16, 2010: Zoll issues a memorandum of corrective action to Sortland due to a failure to properly manage a commendation received by Officer Tony Ryan.
December 7, 2010: Sortland files a complaint against Zoll alleging he was subjected to a "hostile work environment."
December 9, 2010 through January 21, 2011: The city hires independent investigator Don Austin to interview the department and investigate Sortland's complaint.
February 1, 2011: Austin informs the city that he finds Sortland's complaints were unfounded; moreover in the course of speaking with officers, he found that there were divisions in the department attributable to Sortland's actions, and differential treatment of female employees by Sortland as well as others.
May 18, 2011: With the city's direction to further investigate, Austin issues another report that there is a basis for finding discriminatory treatment by Sortland and Sgt. Tyler Chilman.
April 29, 2011: The city issued a pre-disciplinary notice to Sortland.
June 7, 2011: The city gave Sortland notice of a 10-day suspension.
June 10, 2011: Sortland appealed the suspension. That suspension was never served as his termination followed that October.
August 4, 2011: Sortland is involved in a heated discussion with Zoll in the office of Lt. Bob Hueber. Having already been issued his suspension, the Commission found he was being insubordinate when he blocked Zoll's path out of the office. "This clear and direct act of insubordination demonstrates that he is no longer fit to serve in the EPD," the Commission's report said.
October 5, 2011: Sortland was notified of his termination, effective October 31, 2011.
October 12, 2011: Sortland appealed his termination.
January 20, 2012: This was the original date for Sortland's hearing before the Civil Service Commission for his appeals of both his suspension and termination. Severe winter weather caused it's postponement to June.
May 2012: The city settles with two female officers who filed complaints of sexual discrimination (See ).
June 22 and June 23, 2012: Sortland's appeals were heard before the Civil Service Commission.
July 10, 2012: The Commission finds the city was justified in its disciplinary action against Sortland and his termination is affirmed.