Gilbert has denied a notice of claim filed by a police employee union and its president accusing the town’s police chief and two others of discouraging the creation of the association and then retaliating against the members with unjust discipline, suspensions and demotions.
The town released its written denial letter on Friday, calling the claim filed by Gilbert police Sgt. James Lahti and the Gilbert Police Leadership Association "baseless" and assuring "a vigorous defense." Lahti and the association were each seeking $5 million per defendant.
A notice of claim is often a precursor to a lawsuit.
The claim alleges that Lahti’s state and federal constitutional rights to free association and freedom of speech were violated by his department’s treatment of him and other association members. The claim also alleges the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and interference with employment relations.
The Gilbert attorney’s response to the Sept. 9 claim states that Gilbert, Police Chief John Brewer, Cmdr. Tim Dorn and Lt. Nancy Gardner all deny the allegations and the claim for damages. There was never an intent to interfere with or prohibit the creation of the Gilbert Police Leadership Association, according to the town letter.
The claim states in late 2003 and earlier this year Lahti helped organize the new police association. This led to a mandatory sergeants meeting in March where Brewer and Dorn "expressed their dislike of police associations," according to the claim. Three days later, Lahti was given a verbal and written reprimand by Gardner and on March 26 an interval investigation was launched, according to the claim. Lahti’s appeal of that decision is pending.
Gilbert police Lt. Joe Ruet said he could not comment on pending litigation.
Phone calls to Lahti and his attorney, Dale Norris, were not returned Friday.
The claim would have been deemed denied if Gilbert did not respond within 60 days. Gilbert typically does not issue a formal denial.
"We felt it was appropriate," Gilbert Town Attorney Susan Goodwin said of issuing a written response this time.