Township settles: Police officer receives $75,000

Officer, in line for promotion, sued after Twp. Board eliminated position

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published March 26, 2014

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — When a retirement opened a sergeant position in January 2013, Matthew Stachowicz was the officer up for promotion, based on an eligibility list that the township’s Civil Service Commission determined.

In March 2013, the Township Board of Trustees approved a recommendation from former Police Chief Roland Woelkers to eliminate the position, and Stachowicz issued a federal complaint against the township May 16, 2013.

Stachowicz’s complaint accused Township Board members Rick Stathakis, Paul Viar, Stanley Grot, Paula Filar, Michael Flynn and Doug Wozniak of acting in retaliation against Stachowicz for actively participating in efforts to recall Stathakis, Viar and Flynn in 2011.

On March 13, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan entered the township’s settlement of $75,000. Trident Insurance, the township’s former insurer, would pay the bulk of the settlement and the township would pay a $10,000 deductible, township labor attorney Craig Lange said.

On Jan. 24, 2014, due to a rash of command officer retirements, two sergeants were promoted to the position of lieutenant. Stachowicz was among three officers promoted to the position of sergeant.

Lange said the position elimination was based strictly upon the fiscal condition of the Police Department. Lange helped create a report that projected the police budget would face an annual deficit of approximately $2 million.

“Approximately 87-90 percent of expenditures in the Police Department are personnel-related, and so not filling a nonessential position made perfect sense,” he said. “It had nothing to do with the person and everything to do with saving money.”

Lange said he and the board were not in favor of settling, but they conceded due to a strong push from Trident Insurance to settle.

“From (Trident’s) perspective, I think they wanted to cut their attorney fees and make sure more fees weren’t incurred. This was the end of their insurance (with the township). … They probably wanted to get out from under this and move on,” he said.

Trident could not be reached.

Sarah Prescott, Stachowicz’s attorney, said proceedings got to the point where she was just about to question board members when the township settled.

“Insurance companies don’t make decisions,” Prescott said. “(The township) decides when they’re going to agree or not agree. The insurance company could say, ‘We’re going to pay $75,000 now,’ and if (the township) says no, (the insurance company is) forced to agree.”

Prescott also represented Trustee Nick Nightingale, who received a $745,000 settlement from the township in November 2013 after he accused the board of violating his First Amendment right to participate in recall efforts by terminating his family’s towing contract in December 2011.

According to documents obtained by the Shelby-Utica News, Trident Insurance paid $500,000 and the police fund subsidized the remaining amount, plus nearly $300,000 in legal fees in the Nightingale settlement.

Former police chief Robert Leman also received a $75,000 settlement from the township in April 2013 after he filed a complaint against the board for voting to not renew his contract in September 2011 in what he alleged was retaliation for his investigations into alleged unlawful activity by Viar and Stathakis in 2009.

Viar and Stathakis both adamantly denied Leman’s claims. Stathakis said the decision was based on Leman’s performance as chief.

Trident Insurance paid the bulk of the settlement, and the township paid a $10,000 deductible in the Leman settlement.