Former Washoe tribal officer gets damages for firing
RENO, Nev. (AP) – A former Washoe tribal police officer has received $74,000 for wrongful termination – less than one-tenth what he sought in his suit against the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Doug Lewis of Carson Valley, who was asking for $750,000 in damages, said he was relieved this chapter of the federal court case has been concluded.
U.S. District Court Judge Howard McKibben issued the ruling in Lewis’ favor. The decision came after a three-day federal court trial in Reno in May.
McKibben awarded Lewis $14,000 for lost wages and $60,000 for pain and suffering, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Thursday.
In his suit, Lewis claimed he was wrongfully terminated by the Gardnerville-based Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California and alleged the government was negligent in hiring Lionel Ahdunko as tribal police captain in 1992.
McKibben’s decision outlined Lewis’ grievances, primarily linked to a 1997 traffic accident. As a result of that incident, Ahdunko was charged with making false statements in a police report. A federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Ahdunko in November 1998, and he pleaded not guilty.
According to the indictment, Ahdunko was using a government vehicle for his own private use when it became involved in an accident with a civilian vehicle owned by a tribal probation officer.
In a plea negotiation, Ahdunko confessed he was using the government vehicle for private gain.
”The report Ahdunko requested Lewis to prepare and sign was to contain the wrong dates and circumstances surrounding the accident, McKibben wrote in his ruling. ”Lewis knew that such a report would be false and he refused to prepare and sign it.”
According to court testimony, Lewis said he later saw another tribal officer sign a report to the GSA that contained the false information Ahdunko had requested.
McKibben said in his ruling that a few days after the accident, Ahdunko threatened to prosecute Lewis for false arrest in an unrelated matter. Later the same day, the court ruling said Ahdunko told Lewis he was being discharged.
As a result of information provided by Lewis to BIA internal affairs investigators, Ahdunko was fired in September 1997.
McKibben ruled Lewis is entitled to compensation for lost wages representing only seven months pay. He said evidence during the trial showed Lewis had difficulties getting along with other officers and the prosecutor and likely wouldn’t have continued as an employee for more than a year beyond the time of his termination.
In the indictment, Ahdunko also was accused of illegally possessing a fully automatic rifle. He pleaded guilty to that count and was sentenced in July 1999 to a year in federal prison.
On the complaint of making false statements in a police report, Ahdunko was sentenced to three years’ probation.
In a plea-bargain deal in April 1999, Ahdunko pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft in connection with possession of an M-14 rifle prosecutors said belonged to the Washoe Tribal Police Department and was fined $1,000.
On the felony complaint of making false statements in a police report, Ahdunko was sentenced to three years’ probation and fined $2,500.
While heading the Washoe police department, Ahdunko was a center of controversy among reformers who were pushing for changes. Opponents said he allowed a climate of police brutality and intimidation to prevail throughout areas of tribal jurisdiction.
But tribal leaders have consistently denied this was the case, and said many complaints were unsubstantiated.
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