Former Jackson police lieutenant claims wrongful termination, sues town for $1 million
JACKSON — A former Jackson Police Department lieutenant who was at the center of a controversy last year because of what many viewed as an offensive Facebook post is suing the town of Jackson for $1 million, claiming he was “wrongfully and forcefully” terminated by the town without being afforded constitutional due process.
Former police Lt. Roger Schultz came under fire from the public in August 2020 after making a joke in a Facebook post giving residents a look into the day-to-day work of the police department.
A comment in the post related to the department’s investigation into a sexual assault involving a minor. The joke played off the stereotype of police enjoying coffee and donuts and implied officers might need some of each to do the math in the case.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Wyoming District on Aug. 24 and identifies the town of Jackson and Town Manager Larry Pardee as defendants, Schultz said he believed he was given no choice but to resign during the ensuing public scrutiny.
The lawsuit states, “It was Plaintiff Schultz’s goal to humanize the town of Jackson’s police officers so that its citizens could see them as the people and the heroes they are.”
The suit also states that Schultz was to write the blotter posts “in a manner that was more than just dry facts.”
Schultz and his attorneys — James Lubing and Kevin Gregory, of Jackson law firm Lubing, Gregory & Rectanus LLC — allege in their suit that the town and Pardee violated Schultz’s 14th Amendment due process rights under the U.S. Constitution, as well as corresponding aspects of the Wyoming Constitution.
They also claim the former lieutenant was not properly afforded an investigation and hearing on his status.
The damages sought by Schultz, who has since moved from Jackson to Idaho, include the following: $24,407.54 for lost wages; $148,687.54 for estimated lost future wages and benefits; $288,363.24 for estimated lost benefits, retirement funding and pension payments; and $500,000 for “estimated embarrassment, stigmatization, ostracism, emotional harm, reputational harm and other non-economic damages,” according to their December 2020 notice to file suit.
The lawsuit filed last week seeks $1 million in damages, plus punitive damages against the town and Pardee, as defendants in the case.
The post was one of many “blotter” posts Schultz was charged with sharing with the community to give residents a look into the daily work undertaken by Jackson police.
The Aug. 14, 2020, Facebook article read: “On August 13, 2020, at 12:26 p.m., we responded to a report of an underage female having sex with an adult. We will be investigating the case to determine if a crime has been committed and if we can prove that crime. You would think having sex with an underage juvenile would always be a crime. Not necessarily. There are a number of factors involved in deciding whether to file charges to include the age of those involved. Fortunately, determining the age difference of those involved doesn’t involve complex math, so we should be able to figure it out without too much trouble. Just as long as we have coffee and donuts (the ones with the little sprinkles on top) to get us through.”
Within days, people and organizations across the community became outraged that jokes would be made in a post regarding topics so sensitive as sexual assault or sexual violence.
“As advocates, Community Safety Network condemns this post as inexcusable and directly harmful to survivors of violence,” the nonprofit’s board and staff said in a statement released at the time, among other groups to condemn the post. “Humor is never appropriate surrounding the ongoing reality of sexual assault and gender-based violence.”
On Aug. 17 Sgt. Michelle Weber (who is now Jackson’s police chief) and then-Chief Todd Smith told Schultz of complaints the town and department were receiving about the post, “specifically that the blotter post appeared to be making light of the subject matter,” according to the lawsuit.
Schultz that day retracted the initial post and wrote an apology, which the suit says was approved by Sgt. Weber.
The suit states that Schultz was then given an oral reprimand by Weber, at the behest of Town Manager Pardee.
However, following an Aug. 19, 2020, article about the matter in the News&Guide, Schultz was told his apology was insufficient and it, too, was retracted and replaced by an apology from the town, issued by Pardee, according to the suit.
On Aug. 20, 2020, Schultz was suspended with pay, the lawsuit states, but was told the next day by Weber — who that day became acting chief, following Smith’s retirement — that he must either resign or be fired by Pardee.
The suit also alleges that when Schultz asked how much time he had to consider his options, Weber texted Pardee, who allegedly responded, “Why is this not done yet?” and said the action needed to be immediate.
“Feeling forced to resign, and reasonably believing he had no other alternative but to tender his resignation, Plaintiff Schultz submitted a letter to Defendants that stated, ‘I resign, effective immediately,’” the lawsuit states.
Calls seeking comment from Chief Weber, Town Manager Pardee and Town Attorney Lea Colasuonno were not returned by press time Tuesday.
Schultz attorney Kevin Gregory said he was unable to discuss details of the case at this time, pending the town’s answer to the suit. That reply is due within 21 days of filing unless otherwise agreed to by the parties.