SF settles lawsuit over alleged retaliatory firing by police chief

The city of San Francisco has settled a potentially explosive whistleblower lawsuit filed against Police Chief Greg Suhr by a former attorney in the department, the plaintiff’s lawyer said Friday.

“Mrs. O’Haire is thrilled with result,” said Randy Strauss, the lawyer for plaintiff Kelly O’Haire. “Settlement in cases is always a potential, but I am a little bit surprised because I was not optimistic that we would be able to reach a result in this case.”

In the settlement, The City agreed to pay O’Haire $725,000 in exchange for dropping the lawsuit, which claimed she was fired in 2011 by Suhr in retaliation for her investigation into his alleged record of misconduct.

As recently as Monday, lawyers in Judge Lynn O’Malley Taylor’s courtroom stated that a settlement could be difficult to reach because both sides were far from an agreement on the case.

“The settlement did not seem likely early on,” Strauss said of the confidential agreement between the parties.

O’Haire was fired in 2011 soon after Suhr was appointed chief by Mayor Ed Lee. Suhr and The City contend that she was fired because the department had a major deficit during the recession and had to get rid of staff.

“A fact I was not aware of prior came to light during the city attorney’s preparation for trial,” Suhr said in a statement Friday. “Mrs. O’Haire wasn't afforded a courtesy I had afforded others that were separated/demoted to achieve necessary budgetary savings. Had I known of this request I would have granted them. This settlement is the closest The City could arrive at in making Mrs. O’Haire whole, albeit four years later.”

The San Francisco Examiner asked Suhr for clarification on his statement and is awaiting a response.

The lawsuit, filed in 2014, included revealing snippets from a deposition by District Attorney George Gascon, disciplinary records of Suhr — allegedly lying to the FBI for a security clearance, for instance — and potentially other embarrassing information.

O’Haire’s lawsuit stems from the investigation of a 2009 disciplinary case that alleged Suhr mishandled the response to a domestic violence incident by failing to act according to department rules, failing to arrest the suspect and failing to file a police report.

Suhr allegedly responded to the incident in his police car, failed to check to see if a restraining order had been filed and told the victim to keep his name out of the police report when she finally filed one. Suhr drove the victim home, and later she said he saved her life, according to Police Department documents. The suspect was eventually convicted of attempted murder.

Subsequently, under then-Police Chief Heather Fong, O’Haire investigated the incident and uncovered additional alleged wrongdoing in Suhr’s past, and a “pattern of skirting the law with violations that included failing to make a report and lying to the FBI to get top secret security clearance.”

During prosecution of the discipline case before the Police Commission, O’Haire was “threatened numerous times by Suhr’s attorneys and POA representatives, who allegedly said Suhr would fire her if he ever became chief,” according to filings in the lawsuit.

Documents related to the lawsuit also include part of a deposition by Gascon in which he said he thought O’Haire had been the subject of retaliation by Suhr. But when Gascon told the mayor and his chief of staff about the retaliation, they did nothing.

Lee said he does not recall such a conversation taking place.

Neither Suhr nor the City Attorney’s Office responded for requests for comment Friday. But Suhr has said that the allegations are false.

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