Settlement or trial: City of Aurora and former police chief Oates face Murphy lawsuit

42

AURORA | The civil case between former Aurora police Chief Dan Oates and a longtime officer who says he was demoted for disagreeing with the chief could be headed toward a settlement.

Aurora police Chief Dan Oates addresses the media June 25, 2013 at the Aurora Municipal Justice Center. Oates told the media that police may have inadvertently destroyed DNA evidence in nearly 50 cases. (Aaron Cole/Aurora Sentinel) But a lawyer for former Division Chief Ken Murphy said he isn’t confident a settlement could be reached before the trial is set to start in August.

In a joint motion, filed June 10 by Murphy’s lawyers and the law firm representing Oates and the city said the two sides are considering a settlement.

“Counsel for the parties agree that they will endeavor to settle this matter at mediation,” the motion said.

The mediation hearing is set for June 28.

Don Sisson, Murphy’s lawyer, said Monday he is “not hopeful” a settlement could be reached and is gearing up for a trial in August.

“We are looking forward to litigating this case,” he said.

Lawyers for Oates and the city did not immediately return a request for comment.

Sisson has previously said Oates would likely have to return to Colorado from his new job in Florida to testify at any trial.

Murphy filed the lawsuit against Oates and the city in 2013 after he said Oates retaliated against him for publicly disagreeing with the chief. 

A United States District Court judge said in a ruling this year that the case should proceed to trial because there was evidence of a link between Murphy’s speech and his subsequent demotion.

Murphy, who spent more than 30 years with APD before recently retiring, testified in May 2013 on behalf of former Lt. Paul Swanson, who was demoted from lieutenant down to patrol officer in 2011 amid allegations that he failed to show up for work as commander of the Metro Gang Task Force.

Swanson appealed his demotion to the city’s Civil Service Commission, which sided with the chief and upheld the penalty. Murphy testified that he didn’t think Swanson, who is his longtime friend, should have been demoted.

The testimony from Murphy, a longtime and popular fixture at APD, became a major issue in Swanson’s hearing.

Murphy’s lawsuit said his testimony clearly irked the police chief.

According to the lawsuit, Oates told Murphy a few days after he testified that he would be demoted if he did not send out a department-wide email retracting his testimony. Murphy refused and said his testimony was the truth.

Oates said he was offering Murphy a “life line,” according to the lawsuit, and had to demote Murphy when he refused to take it. Murphy’s lawsuit asks for back pay as well as damages for pain and suffering.

Murphy’s lawyer has said he is seeking “substantial” monetary damages and said Murphy’s demotion meant he wasn’t in a command position in 2014 when Oates stepped down and thus didn’t have a shot at the department’s top job.