A Missouri appeals court threw out Tuesday most of a $6.5 million judgment against the Kansas City police board, which a jury had awarded a former officer in an employment suit.
A three-judge panel of the Western District Court of Appeals stripped $6 million from the judgment, which a Jackson County jury awarded to Danny Holmes after he was fired. He alleged racial discrimination, breach of contract and whistleblower violations. Holmes is an African-American.
William Quirk, a Kansas City lawyer representing the police board, said his clients were happy with the court’s decision but had not decided whether to challenge the remaining judgments with further appeals.
“We are pleased the court reversed basically 90 percent of the judgment,” Quirk said.
The appeals court let stand $500,000 in actual and punitive damages against the department, reasoning that jurors properly had found that Holmes’ race was a “contributing factor” in his termination.
Holmes’ lawyer, Lyle Gregory of Raymore, said his client was disappointed with most of the court’s decisions on the monetary issues. Holmes was pleased, however, that judges had found in his favor on the discrimination issue, Gregory said.
“His viewpoint that he was racially discriminated against has been vindicated and he’s happy about that,” Gregory said. “Those facts should make the police department very embarrassed of its conduct.”
Gregory said Holmes intends to pursue further appeals.
The department put Holmes on unpaid leave in 2006. Two years later, the police board voted to fire him for his actions during a 2003 missing person investigation that turned into a homicide case when the search subject was found dead.
Working with a detective, Holmes and his partner had sought information about the missing man at the midtown apartment of a suspected drug dealer. Entering the apartment, they saw another man with a gun.
Holmes later testified that he put the gun in a freezer for his and his partner’s safety while they questioned the suspected dealer.
Holmes said he called the detective, who told him to leave the gun and get out of the apartment. Holmes picked up a box of bullets as he left the apartment.
Holmes’ sergeant told him to follow the detective’s instructions. Another sergeant later told him to write a report, not mentioning the gun or that he had entered the apartment.
The report and the bullets came up almost three years later as prosecutors prepared to try the suspected drug dealer in the death of the missing man. Prosecutors later dismissed the murder charge, although the suspect now is serving a long federal sentence for drug convictions.
Holmes contended that he had been made a scapegoat for the failed murder prosecution and said that neither the homicide detective nor his partner had been punished as severely as he.
In trimming the monetary judgment, appeals judges ruled that Holmes’ whistleblower claim was barred by sovereign immunity. Judges also ruled that state law did not give Holmes a contractual right to sue for damages for wrongful termination.