published Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Jury awards former Chattanooga cop $680,000 in federal lawsuit

Former Chattanoooga Police officer Mickel Hoback, right, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Court Building Thursday with one of his attorneys, Michael Richardson. Hoback was fired in from the Chattanooga Police Department in 2009 and was awarded 680,000 in back pay and damages by a Federal jury today.
Former Chattanoooga Police officer Mickel Hoback, right, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Court Building Thursday with one of his attorneys, Michael Richardson. Hoback was fired in from the Chattanooga Police Department in 2009 and was awarded 680,000 in back pay and damages by a Federal jury today.
Photo by Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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A federal jury this morning awarded a former Chattanooga Police Department officer $680,000 in damages related to his July 2009 firing from the department.

Mickel Hoback sued the city to get his job back with back pay and benefits. He also asked for $1.5 million in damages.

Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier said the jury could not award Hoback his job back. In February, a Chancery Court judge ordered the city to return the officer to work. That state case is under appeal by the city.

Former Police Chief Freeman Cooper had fired Hoback after an evaluation from a city-hired psychologist deemed the officer “unfit for duty” in relation to a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.

Read more in tomorrow’s Times Free Press.

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about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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fedup350 said...

Let me get this right, ex chief freeman cooper lost the city of chattanooga $500,000 when it was found he doscriminated against former officers vaugn and cook. Now he has lost the city of chattanooga $680,000 for discriminating against former officer hoback. Is this the same cheif that littlefield wanted to hire back under a "special" contract after he retired? Typical littlefield move.

September 15, 2011 at 1:23 p.m.
jxlanger said...

And wasn't Officer Hoback voted Officer Of The Year 2007? So much for service to your country.

September 15, 2011 at 1:33 p.m.
bearhunter said...

thank you officer hoback for your public service and service to our country. good luck to you.

September 15, 2011 at 1:49 p.m.
chet123 said...

Thank you freeman cooper for costing the city 680,000 dollars at a time the city is broke.....this what the city get for placing a clarence thomas jr(freeman cooper) ..in such a vital role...what a joke!!!...

September 15, 2011 at 2:04 p.m.
Shock said...

Chet - I don't understand your comparison to a supreme court justice. Or are you referencing some other Clarence Thomas. Can you clarify your comment for me?

September 15, 2011 at 2:55 p.m.
inquiringmind said...

Don't confuse race with plain ignorance, probably suborned by da mayor.

September 15, 2011 at 3:01 p.m.
adolphochs said...

How much money have brain dead HR decisions made by incompetent public employees (redundancy?) cost this community over the years? Has to be approaching $10+ million.

September 15, 2011 at 3:09 p.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

Unless an individual has been in direct combat in a war zone there should be very few who suffer from cases of actual PTSD. That is, unless they had issues all along. Depending upon a military person's actual duties, many rarely if ever have come in contact with the enemy. And most only get to hear distant sounds of war that sounds more like a firecracker going off during 4TH of July celebrations. Just a thought from someone who knows.

September 15, 2011 at 3:23 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

From a different TFP article today

Cooper also had to obey a Tennessee law stating that, in order to be certified to serve, officers must be free of mental health problems that would affect their duties. But in 2003, a federal order said the state law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. That same year, six years before Hoback was fired, the Tennessee attorney general agreed with the federal order and said that portion of the law would not be enforced anymore.

The article goes on to state:

"The build-up to the firing began April 14, 2009. Hoback, an Iraq war veteran, complained to Bearden about problems with a lithium prescription. Bearden referred him to the Veterans Administration clinic, where a psychiatrist could evaluate the medication. At the clinic, Dr. Estella Acosta briefly interviewed Hoback and decided he was a suicide risk. She ordered that he be involuntarily committed to the VA Hospital in Murfreesboro, Tenn."

It goes on to explain that he wasn't a suicide risk, but a doctor hired by the city said this:

Brookshire agreed that he had not spoken with either Bearden or Acosta, but that it wasn’t necessary because he performed his own tests and found also that Hoback “had a pattern of making excuses or explaining away incidents.” Brookshire testified that inconsistencies in what Hoback said to him in three meetings made it difficult to evaluate him.

Shoot, yeah, give him BACK his gun and turn him loose on the streets of Chattanooga. No harm. No foul. Oh, except for the additional money that the taxpayers will lose when the city is sued for something that this guy does in the future.

Correct me if I am wrong, I thought that an employer in this state can fire you for whatever reason that they want.

September 15, 2011 at 4:07 p.m.
UjokinRIGHTQ said...

Well said, SavartiTN. ^These police agencies already know some of these kats in blue are ticking time bombs waiting to explode, while others have already exploded and exploded often. However, the exploding usually erupts on some pss class poor soul who doesn't count, and the matter is covered up. Then the little important* social classes like little susie or little johnnie becomes the victim and the ones who could have prevented it starts pointing fingers and screaming the culprit should have been gotten rid of a long time ago.

Xanax lithium and other powerful narcotics are only a tip of the iceberg.

September 15, 2011 at 4:57 p.m.

Mr Hoback Congratulations. myself and others thank you for your efforts as a soldier and your efforts as a police officer. I hope you find a new career that makes you happy. I wouldn't advise staying in the police business just look at some of the pathetic people that turn there back on the first opportunity. Every so often we get to see justice dealt out when an individual is wronged.

September 15, 2011 at 5:24 p.m.
Jennwhite said...

SavartiTN maybe you should have came to the court room and watched this as several of us did all this week. Half of the stuff you just put in your statement were statements from cooper and the newspaper and were proven wrong in court but you like many others judge people without knowing the whole facts. And yea I'll correct you because you are wrong, you can't just fire someone for whatever reason they what. You must have been thinking about the hire and fire at will state comment several people make and give to employees when they want to fire someone, but no legaly you can't do that. And amnestiUSAF84 you are right about your statement but witness and paperwork also proven officer did in fact see combat so maybe he was one of the few.

September 15, 2011 at 5:53 p.m.
Skeptic101 said...

A jury of his peers (people like you and me) heard and read ALL the FACTS presented and awarded him and his attorneys $680k. Good enough for me since I wasn't there to hear and read ALL the FACTS of the case.

September 15, 2011 at 6:20 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

"And yea I'll correct you because you are wrong, you can't just fire someone for whatever reason they what."

Jennwhite, you are wrong. Here it is from the EEOC website:

IV. REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION The ADAAA did not change the definition of reasonable accommodation. However, the Act does clarify that only individuals who meet the first (actual disability) and second (record of a disability) parts of the definition are entitled to accommodations; individuals who only meet the third part (regarded as) are not entitled to accommodations. Even though the definition did not change, it is clear that with a broader definition of disability, more focus will be placed on providing reasonable accommodations.

Another thing to keep in mind is the flexibility built into the reasonable accommodation obligation under the ADA. For example:

•employers can choose among effective accommodation options and do not always have to provide the requested accommodation, •employers do not have to provide accommodations that pose an undue hardship, •employers do not have to provide as reasonable accommodation personal use items needed in accomplishing daily activities both on and off the job, •employers do not have to make an accommodation for an individual who is not otherwise qualified for a position, and •employers do not have to remove essential functions, create new jobs, or lower productions standards as an accommodation.

In case there is ANY doubt about the performance standards with the ADA, here is the fact sheet:

http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/performance-conduct.html

I think that the Police Department would win this one on appeal.

September 15, 2011 at 6:23 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

And to further prove the point, Jennwhite, here it is directly from the State of Tennessee website:

EMPLOYMENT-AT-WILL Are there any legal restrictions against firing, suspending or disciplining employees?

Tennessee is known as an "EMPLOYMENT-AT-WILL" state. Generally, this means that an employer may legally hire, fire, suspend or discipline any employee at any time and for any reason - good or bad - or for no reason at all. However, an employer may not discriminate against any employee on the basis of the employee's race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin, or disability.

Also, under the Tennessee "WHISTLE BLOWER'S LAW", the employer may not take any reprisal against an employee who advises the employer that the business is in violation of a law and the employee either discloses, threatens to disclose, or testifies about the violation of law, or the employee objects to or refuses to participate in an employment act in violation of law. This law may be found at Tennessee Revised Statutes Title 50-1-304.

There are other exceptions to Tennessee's "EMPLOYMENT-AT-WILL" doctrine. Tennessee employees may not be disciplined or discharged at-will for:

•Being called to military service Title 8-33-101 thru 8-33-109 •Voting in elections Title 2-1-106 •Exercising right of association Title 50-1-201 thru 50-1-204 •Wage garnishment Title 26-2-101 thru 26-2-410 •Filing workers' compensation claim Title 50-6-101 thru 50-6-705 •Being called to jury duty Title 22-4-108 ◦(Employer must also pay the employee wages during the jury service less what the court pays.) Employees who are fired may still apply for unemployment insurance benefits. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Unemployment Insurance Division will determine eligibility. Further information may be found under the Unemployment Insurance section of this web site.

September 15, 2011 at 6:24 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

And that is a good point, Skeptic. The same can be said of Casey Anthony.

September 15, 2011 at 6:25 p.m.
aklashlee said...

Thank you SavartiTN for your points. Anyone that has permission to carry a weapon and have power over others should be evaluated constantly. If he was indead on lithium then that is even a scarier fact due to the side effects this drug can cause. Why the hell would anyone want a ticking time bomb "enforcing" the law?
Bet the ones on here that are whining would also be the first ones to point fingers, bitch and complain if this man, Hoback, had ended up hurting or killing someone inthe line of duty! What part of PROTECT and SERVE do you people not understand? I do thank him for serving our country but I also know several good soldiers whom have come back not so right. If there was any doubt that a person is not fit then so be it. Better wrong before then after.

September 15, 2011 at 9:30 p.m.
Legend said...

Skeptic101 said... A jury of his peers

Believe me when I tell you, skeptic101, there's actually NO SUCH THING as a "Jury of one's peers." Some jurors have outright said they'd never either convict or rule against a cop. No matter what the cop was caught committing. It's apparent that most, if not all, of these jurors have the same mindset.

The judicial system in America is a joke. These same jurors would have likely ruled against you and I {the average citizen} who brought charges of abuse and other anti-social behavior against a cop.

September 15, 2011 at 9:47 p.m.
NoMyth said...

Two years of pay is worth $680,000? That is a ridiculous award. Despite the city's incompetence in handling this issue properly from the start, they need to appeal this ruling. The taxpayers should not be paying any city employees $340,000 per year to NOT work!

September 15, 2011 at 9:52 p.m.
holdout said...

Have someone read it for you NoMyth. Back pay and damages.

September 16, 2011 at 7:55 a.m.
UjokinRIGHTQ said...

holdout said... Have someone read it for you NoMyth. Back pay and damages

It still shouldn't amount to over six-hundred grand. But it's good to have friends on the jury, isn't it? ;)

September 16, 2011 at 9:56 a.m.
HiDef said...

*Unless an individual has been in direct combat in a war zone there should be very few who suffer from cases of actual PTSD. That is, unless they had issues all along. Depending upon a military person's actual duties, many rarely if ever have come in contact with the enemy. And most only get to hear distant sounds of war that sounds more like a firecracker going off during 4TH of July celebrations. Just a thought from someone who knows. *

Totally ridiculous statement amnestiusaf84. PTSD affects everyone differently. I never the left the base I was at in Iraq but that didn't stop the Iraqi's from coming to us. Mortar rounds hit our base daily and stray rounds were known to pass through living quarters. I was certainly not in what you would call a "hot spot" at the time either.

September 16, 2011 at 10:02 a.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

Actually, HiDef, it would have been totally ridiculous if I'd said none. I didn't. I said very few and rarely. Know the difference?

September 16, 2011 at 7:45 p.m.
tngirl said...

LEGEND are you serious? Do you really believe that 11 jurors would go into deliberation and agree that just because this man is a police officer they will vote in his favor? You have obviously NEVER served on a jury! This man has dedicated his life to serve his community and his country. He has put his life on the line on several occasions to keep us safe. He was wrongly fired from the Chattanooga Police Department. Chief Cooper did not look at all of the facts before firing Officer Hoback.

NOMYTH did you read the articles? $680,000 was not awarded for backpay only. He was awarded backpay, frontpay and damages. You have no idea what this man has had to go through.

September 17, 2011 at 11:22 a.m.
Jennwhite said...

SavartiTN I think your only reading the points you want " However, an employer may not discriminate against any employee on the basis of the employee's race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin, or disability." There was a tape of Chief Cooper telling this man why he was fired and it had nothing to do with being unfit. Ex-Chief Cooper stated "You can't have PTSD". Nothing further. And why is nobody even thing about the old assistant chief Jennie Snyder? Didn't Cooper find her a job inside? Instead of throwing mud officer Hoback never brought these issues up because it was so obvious. I will also point out that the jury decision was one of the fastest in federal court history.......must have been something there. It's also funny that he continues to be a police office in another city now and still has nothing but high marks from his current supervisors. He already won his job back in State court almost a year ago and now he has won this one.....so like it or not he will be back and the Chief still cost the city extra money. Good Job.

September 19, 2011 at 7:39 a.m.
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