The city of Sitka will pay $30,000 to settle the second of three lawsuits brought by former police department employees. Noah Shepard had sued, claiming he was pushed out of his job at the Sitka Police Department.
The former corrections officer may be richer, but Noah Shepard says it doesn’t feel like a victory.
“I lost this case. Legitimately I did,” he says. “There’s $30,000 that I don’t know what to do with.”
Shepard was hired as a jailer in 2013. He later attended the police academy in Anchorage to be an officer. But he left last year after he says he was injured in training. He says he was pushed to resign and filed a lawsuit claiming a “hostile work environment.”
That claim remains unproven. As part of the settlement, the city admitted no liability to wrongdoing.
This settlement was reached in early February. It is the second case settled of three high profile cases against the city involving the police department. Former detective Ryan Silva’s whistleblower case was settled for $325,000. That case involved allegations the police department illegally purchased automatic weapons in 2017. The third case filed by former officer Mary Ferguson in 2018 alleges sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. A trial is set for June. All three lawsuits were prepared by the Northern Justice Project, an Anchorage law firm specializing in civil rights litigation.
City attorney Brian Hanson told Raven News on Thursday (2-13-20) the city is happy that the case was settled, but wouldn’t speak to the specifics of the settlement.
Shepard says he never sought out to get money. But he says his attorneys warned him that if he refused a cash settlement and lost at trial, he’d owe the city for legal costs.
“You can go bankrupt paying the city’s attorney fees even if you win,” he says.
Shepard says he wants to figure out a way to give the money back to the city. But he’s still calling for the Sitka Assembly to assembly to address dysfunction in the police department.
“I’m begging you, please ask to speak to me, please ask me questions. Please ask the things I know,” he told assembly members during public comment at a meeting on February 11. “I’m out of this fight because of the settlement offer, I can no longer continue it. It’s still your fight.”
Sitka Police Chief Robert Baty took over the department last April. He recently reported to the assembly that recruitment remains an issue. The department has six officer positions to fill. But he said morale has improved.
“I have a great group of community oriented people who are helping rebuild the department,” he said. “We are in the process of restoring the department’s professionalism, through training, leadership, and accountability.”
Baty and city staff have called for more incentives to help recruit and retain SPD staff, like signing bonuses for police officers. Those are being considered during the assembly’s budget cycle this year.