Havre Daily News
A former Havre police dispatcher has filed suit in state District Court against Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel, senior patrol officer Cathy Huston, the Police Department and the city of Havre, alleging that she was wrongfully discharged and blacklisted.
The lawsuit, filed last Wednesday by Conrad attorney Shari Gianarelli, claims that Barthel, the Police Department and the city terminated dispatcher April Hanson “without cause” on March 11.
It also alleges that Huston, who has worked as an officer for almost five years, “intentionally interfered” with Hanson's employment by making “unspecified and unsupported complaints” against her.
Hanson, 26, is seeking four years' worth of lost wages and fringe benefits, together with interest, along with compensation for emotional pain and suffering, punitive damages and legal costs. According to city payroll records, Hanson worked both part time and full time as a dispatcher from May 2002 to March 11 of last year.
Barthel declined to comment Tuesday. Huston and the city's attorneys could not be reached for comment today.
In an interview today, Gianarelli said the defendants made Hanson's working environment “hostile.”
“They made it impossible for her to continue on, so she left,” Gianarelli said. “But it wasn't her choice.
“It is our position that they terminated her,” she added.
The suit alleges that the defendants have blacklisted Hanson.
Hanson reapplied to the Police Department for a dispatcher position and was denied, Gianarelli said. Hanson also has applied for numerous other jobs in Havre and has not been hired, she said.
“It is her belief ... that because of the manner in which she was terminated by the Havre Police Department, she is unable to find employment,” Gianarelli said.
The lawsuit gives the defendants 20 days to respond or risk default judgement.
According to Hill County Justice Court documents, Hanson was arrested the day after she left the Police Department on a charge of partner or family member assault. She was accused of slapping a man. Hanson pleaded guilty March 14, a document said. Hill County Justice of the Peace Terry Stoppa fined Hanson $300 and ordered her to complete chemical dependency treatment and 40 hours of anger-management counseling.
In a letter to Stoppa on April 7, Hanson asked to withdraw her guilty plea. She wrote that she thought she would have the opportunity to tell her side of the story before she was sentenced.
“After reading the report I felt I was set up,” Hanson wrote. “Also, photographs of my injuries will show that the victim did not provide truthful information as he was trying to protect himself. “I am trying to get my life together ... after coming out of an abusive marriage,” she wrote, adding that she had been attending weekly counseling sessions for four months.
Stoppa denied her request the next day.
An evaluation compiled by TLC Recovery Inc. said Hanson was a problem drinker who had made unsuccessful attempts to stop consuming alcohol, according to court records.
Gianarelli said that if she was representing Hanson in Justice Court, she would not have advised her to plead guilty. Hanson waived the right to an attorney at her arraignment.
“There was no alcohol involved in her termination,” Giarnarelli added.