Harold Stanton, who was fired as Jerusalem Township fire chief earlier this year, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Toledo against the township and its trustees, alleging they violated his constitutional rights and asking for compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $25,000.
In the lawsuit filed Sept. 19, Mr. Stanton alleges they violated his 1st, 5th, and 14th Amendment rights when they terminated him in March, ostensibly for repeatedly allowing an unauthorized person — Jim Gray — to be at the scene of fires assisting the fire department.
According to the court filing, the trustees fired Mr. Stanton in part because he and Mr. Gray were personal friends and the trustees did not like Mr. Gray’s brother, Joe, a former township firefighter.
The lawsuit states the trustees — David Bench, Joseph Kiss, and Ronald Sheehan — directed Mr. Stanton twice to tell Jim Gray not to assist at fire scenes, and that Mr. Stanton followed their instructions both times.
On Feb. 23, however, unbeknownst to Mr. Stanton, Jim Gray assisted at a residential fire that destroyed a property on Clubhouse Drive, the lawsuit states, and the next day the trustees charged Mr. Stanton with misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, and misconduct in the performance of his official duties and suspended him without pay.
Then, after convening their own hearing at which they also testified, the trustees issued their “findings” and fired Mr. Stanton, without conducting “any type of investigation,” according to the court filing.
There things remained until August, when Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Dean Mandros ordered the trustees to reinstate Mr. Stanton, who also is a Toledo firefighter, to his $20,000-per-year chief’s job and reimburse him for all lost wages and benefits.
The judge found that the trustees did not take into consideration the chief’s distinguished 25-year career, as required by the township’s own personnel manual, when deciding to terminate him. The judge also found that the trustees violated the chief’s constitutional right to due process.
Judge Mandros later stayed his order at the trustees’ request while the township prepared an appeal.
The trustees have turned the matter over to the township’s insurance carrier, the Ohio Township Association Risk Management Authority, and its attorney. Mr. Bench, the trustees’ chairman, said they would not comment, under instructions from the attorney.
The Columbus attorney, Patrick Kasson, did not return phone calls. R. Kevin Greenfield, Mr. Stanton’s attorney, said he had not spoken to Mr. Kasson about a settlement, but that any out-of-court agreement would have to include a return to the chief's job for Mr. Stanton.
“If they’re not doing that, there will be no settlement, and they haven’t indicated they would do that,” Mr. Greenfield said.