PORTLAND – A federal judge dismissed former Bethel police Chief Darren Tripp’s $500,000 lawsuit against Bethel and Town Manager Scott Cole on Friday morning.

Tripp declined comment on the decision early Friday evening, saying he had yet to speak with his attorney, Thomas Carey, of Rumford. They have 10 days to appeal the decision.

Cole said, “The town welcomes the decision, and we appreciate the court’s wisdom.” He deferred further comment to Anne M. Carney, the Portland lawyer who represented Cole and the town. Board of Selectman Chairman Harry Dresser Jr. also deferred comment to Carney, who was unavailable for comment Friday.

Tripp filed suit last year in U.S. District Court in Portland. He challenged Cole’s 33-day paid suspension of Tripp in March 2003 for alleged “serious” job deficiencies, poor judgment, lack of ethics and lack of respect for the law.

Tripp initially sought $250,000 in damages, but amended it to $500,000 after Cole fired Tripp on Feb. 12, 2004, for failure to maintain contact with the Oxford County Regional Communications Center in the event of an emergency; and failing to respond from the police station for 12 minutes on Dec. 2, 2003, to repeated attempts by dispatchers using four separate communication methods to alert him of an armed robbery in Bethel.

In the suit and amendment, Tripp sought compensation for emotional distress, alleged damage to his reputation, whistleblower and First Amendment retaliations, loss of wages and attorney fees.

Carney filed a motion to dismiss the suit with U.S. District Court Judge Margaret J. Kravchuk.

“Because the record does not support Tripp’s claims, I recommend that the court grant the defendants’ motion,” Kravchuk said.

She also denied a motion from Tripp seeking summary judgment on whether the defendants had offered a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for suspending and discharging him from town employment.

“Because I have concluded that Tripp fails to state a prima facie claim of retaliation, I conclude that Tripp’s motion is moot,” Kravchuk said.

She went on to say that Tripp’s cross-motion was highly irregular, because he was seeking some form of relief based on alleged due process violations, even though his complaint failed to assert any such claim.

Kravchuk also ruled that Cole and the town were correct in their assertion that Tripp’s tort claim for emotional distress is barred by the exclusivity and immunity provision of the Maine Workers’ Compensation Act.

Tripp’s whistleblower claim pertains to the former chief s assertion that Cole asked him to dismiss a dog-at-large summons that animal control officer Ozzie Hart had issued to Cheri Thurston on Oct. 1, 2002.

In his suit, Tripp maintained that “he unmistakably recognized the intimidation laced through the words spoken by Scott Cole to have the chief give his word that the Thurston summons would be dismissed.”

But Kravchuk decided that facts in the record did not support Tripp’s contentions.

“Cole did not order that Tripp succeed in getting the summons dismissed, by hook or by crook. Moreover, Cole’s statement that he expected Tripp to honor his request does not rise to the level of intimidation,” she said.

Furthermore, Kravchuk said, Cole later asked Tripp to ask the district attorney to “dump” the charge.

“These facts cannot support a whistleblower claim, because a reasonable person would not consider it an obstruction of government administration to ask the district attorney to drop a charge based on the particular circumstances of a case,” she added.

She also concluded, in dismissing the freedom of speech violation charge that Tripp’s exercise of First Amendment rights of free speech in the workplace “related far more to his private concerns about working conditions than to matters of inherent concern to the electorate.”


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