Back in June 2010, the City of Medina hired Jeffrey Chen, a Chinese American, as their Police Chief—a distinguished role responsible for the control and supervision over their policy developments and program implementations.
A year later, Chen filed a lawsuit against the City of Medina and City Manager Donna Hanson on the basis of racial discrimination after a controversial resignation that later became an administrative leave order before resulting in his full dismissal.
Chen was awarded $2 million in damages for his dismissal on grounds of racial discrimination. However, in what The Seattle Times describes as “an extraordinary legal turnaround,” the federal judge vacated the jury’s verdict, concluding that Chen’s lawyer, Marianne Jones, had improperly influenced the members of the jury in seeing Chen as a victim of racial discrimination.
The judge called for a new trial, which has thus been postponed from April 28 to July 28, 2014. It is scheduled to take place in the Western Washington District Court.
Chen v. The City of Medina is a confusing case that continues to hit the headlines during its final finger-pointing playoff. The controversy has raised important discussion points for the APA community in how race is not only handled in the legal context but also in the larger contemporary society.
Below is a timeline of events to help readers understand the case in its full context:
- June 2010—The City of Medina hires Jeffrey Chen who had since served the department since 2001 and later became the interim chief of police in early 2004.
- November 2010—The City’s insurer hired attorney Michael Bolasina to provide legal advice following reports of unauthorized access into its records.
- December 2010—Bolasina interviews Chen about complaints of unauthorized activity and asks to review his documentation. Chen resigns two days later but later revokes it and is placed on administrative leave.
- January 2011—Chen provides a memorandum contradicting his earlier statements to Bolasina.
- February 2011—Chen faces an internal investigation, which finds evidence of misconduct: voiding citations for influential Medina residents, using his work vehicle to take vacation, paying for gas with the City’s credit card, and attempting to access the City’s email archive.
- April 2011—Chen resigns and files a lawsuit against the City of Medina on the basis that he was dismissed because of his race. Chen claims that city officials and employees made derogatory statements and racial slurs about his heritage, such as being referred to as a “Chinaman” and “a regular Charlie Chan.”
- March 2013—After 11 days of trial, the jury was in favor of Chen who was awarded $2 million in damages, which included back pay, loss of income, and $100,000 in emotional damages.
- August 2013—U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly issues an order of reversal soon that nullifies the previous verdict, which was determined that the members of the jury were subjected to the prosecutor’s innuendo rather than evidence to establish a racial motivation in Chen’s case.
- January 2014—Judge Zilly issues a new trial, the first in his 25 years on the bench, for April 28, which has now been postponed to July 28. Chen’s attorney has since submitted a new “supplemental economics damage report” that was rejected by the court. According to Chen, the judge is “allowing the supplemental report in but will permit the city a continuance to depose the new economics expert.”