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By Hector Castro
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

VANCOUVER, Wash. - A former Vancouver, Wash., police officer who sued for discrimination after he was fired has reached a $1.65 million settlement with the city.
Attorneys for Navin Sharma, who was fired as a police officer in 2006, believe the amount could set a state record in an employment-related case.
"This case was outrageous and appalling," said Seattle attorney Scott Blankenship, who represented Sharma in his lawsuit.
Attorneys for the city of Vancouver could not be reached for comment.
Blankenship said the settlement agreement was reached last week, just weeks before the trial was set to start.
Sharma became a Vancouver police officer in 1997. Trouble began for him the following year when he was called to testify against some senior officers as part of an internal affairs investigation.
Sharma's testimony did not support those officers and, later, he said, the harassment began. By 2001, he was suing the city in federal court over the harassment. That case ended in a settlement that gave Sharma $287,000 in exchange for him dropping his claims of discrimination.
Sharma continued working for the department, but his work life went downhill following that settlement.
Superiors referred to him by racial slurs, callers left anonymous, profane voice-mail messages on his phone, he found offensive notes left on his vehicle and at least one city official had a nickname for him -- Sharmageddon.
Sharma complained, but the harassment continued.
In 2006, he was fired for problems with his DUI reports. He had been accused of using the cut and paste feature to write the reports.
Sharma's attorneys argued that other officers were also found to have committed the same error, but received far less discipline.
Sharma, who immigrated to the United States from India, argued that the harassment and his eventual termination were a result of racial discrimination.
In addition to the financial settlement, city officials have agreed to write a letter of thanks for Sharma's service to the department, put documentation in his personnel file reflecting his good standing as an officer, and notify the Criminal Justice Training Commission that Sharma should be able to retain his law enforcement commission.
Sharma, who currently works as an emergency room trauma nurse, said he would like to get back into law enforcement, but fears his former employers may have already damaged his reputation to such an extent that becoming a cop again may prove impossible.
"I would not be surprised if they pretty much decimated my career in law enforcement," he said.

Wire Service
 

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City Asks Fed Probe Of Officer Firing

By ERIK ROBINSON
COLUMBIAN STAFF WRITER
Vancouver, Washington is asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the city's handling of the termination of a police officer who won a $1.65 million discrimination settlement last month.

City officials are continuing to seek an outside organization to review the termination of police officer Navin Sharma in 2006. Stung by comments that the outside review amounted to a whitewash, Mayor Royce Pollard sent a certified letter to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle on Friday.

"I am requesting that the Department of Justice initiate an investigation into potential civil or criminal violations in the matter of the termination of Vancouver Police Officer Navin Sharma," Pollard wrote in the letter to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Harris.

Pollard, in an interview, said it's the first time he can recall the city requesting a Justice Department review. He said he believes City Manager Pat McDonnell, Police Chief Clifford Cook and the city administration will hold up well to the outside scrutiny.

"This is a good city," he said. "I don't want this cloud hanging over it."

The Justice Department will conduct a preliminary review and then determine whether the request merits a full-blown investigation, said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle.

"What is unusual is that the city is making this request," she said. "In the usual course of events, we become aware of alleged civil rights violations from a victim or the victim's advocates. Quite honestly, the FBI will open a preliminary civil rights violation simply based on news reports."

Pollard said the city will continue to seek its own independent review that will examine past personnel cases, analyze policies and procedures for internal affairs investigations and disciplinary actions, and conduct a climate or cultural assessment of the overall agency.

Sharma, a native of India, said he faced retaliation after winning a previous discrimination award from the city and said he was unjustly fired for making mistakes on drunken driving reports.

Sharma sued the city in federal court alleging discrimination and retaliation.

His attorneys claimed the errors on DUI reports were inadvertent mistakes not meriting termination. They said Sharma had been targeted for retaliation and had endured taunts about his East Indian ethnicity ever since getting labeled as a snitch in 1998 for testifying against two sergeants in an internal affairs investigation.

Jeff Kipp, president of the Vancouver Police Officers Guild, said the union representing officers, corporals and sergeants welcomes any outside review.

"It's going to reveal what we already know," Kipp said. "No VPOG officers were involved in any decisions that adversely affected Navin Sharma."
THE COLUMBIAN
 
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