Campbell sues, restates allegations against Hall
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
The tug-of-war between former police chief Maverick Campbell and the Liberty Hill City Council moved to a new level Oct. 1 when Campbell filed a civil lawsuit against the City.
The suit – filed in District Court – is for breach of contract, and seeks more than $290,000 in lost wages as well as other damages.
“Maverick has a contract of employment for a specific term with the City and he could only be terminated under certain circumstances that are defined in the contract as cause for termination,” said attorney Kerry O’Brien, who is representing Campbell. “We’re contending they did not have cause to terminate him and they owe him the remainder of his salary under the three-year term. It’s breach of contract primarily.”
One of the key pieces to Campbell’s challenge is an alleged lack of proper procedure in the termination.
“The other basis for the lawsuit is the fact that there is a provision in the Texas Government Code that says you can’t fire a police officer – a law enforcement officer – based on a complaint that’s not in writing, signed and investigated by the department, or in this case the City,” O’Brien said. “There was nothing of that sort involved here. That’s also a problematic issue for the City in this termination.”
The legal action stems from the firing of Campbell in March, which was followed by a grievance filed by the former chief in April, a subsequent investigation by the City and a recent unemployment compensation hearing won by Campbell against the City.
Liberty Hill officials produced documents representing an investigation of Campbell the day after his termination, but at no time in that process did City officials talk to Campbell or his attorney as part of the investigation.
When asked about the validity of the City’s investigation that was conducted at the request of Campbell and his attorney as part of the grievance filed, O’Brien dismissed it.
“Number one, they made the decision to terminate him before that,” he said. “Once you’ve made the decision to terminate somebody, and you’ve done so without investigation and you terminate then you’ve already violated the law. I can promise you that an investigation after the fact, when someone has gotten an attorney, is always going to favor the City. That is simply not sufficient under the circumstances.”
The lawsuit also raises questions regarding the termination in light of a three-year contract extension in May 2019, as well as multiple pay increases and a lack of any disciplinary action documented in his file.
“I would point anybody to Maverick’s disciplinary record prior to his termination, which was nonexistent,” O’Brien said.
All along, Campbell has contended that the incident in New Jersey, originally cited by the City as cause for his termination, was used as an excuse to fire him. The long list of allegations Campbell expressed in his grievance are included in the lawsuit filed last week because O’Brien believes those issues are the real cause for termination, and the termination was retaliation for opposing Hall’s demands.
“There are descriptions of a lot of the things alleged because I believe those provide the basis and the motivation for the Mayor to push for Maverick’s termination,” he said.
What’s different in the suit, though, is that Campbell claims to have witnesses and proof there was a prior effort to terminate him and concerns from others about Hall’s alleged behavior.
In the filing, Campbell has a statement from former City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann – who was terminated in May – alleging that City Human Resources Director Becky Wilkins told her that “she and Hall didn’t want to waste an opportunity to terminate Campbell”, according to the suit.
The suit also cites two meetings – one in December 2019 and one in February – with two members of the City Council “to discuss his concerns about Hall’s behavior, including Hall’s threats to have Campbell fired. Therefore, Hall and the council members were aware of Campbell’s intentions to file formal criminal complaints before they made the decision to terminate him.”
Campbell confirmed this week that those two Council members who met with him at his home were Liz Rundzieher and Kathy Canady. He also said Canady told him specifically that the issues – including the behavior of public officials at City-sponsored functions – would be placed on a Council agenda for further discussion.
Canady has spoken out against Campbell in The Independent on numerous occasions since the decision was made to terminate him.
The narrative of the lawsuit includes details of Hall’s alleged meddling in the operation of the police department, as well as issues previously reported regarding Hall’s behavior during ride alongs, one of which documented Hall accessing the computer in the patrol car of former officer Jeff Farmer. The City originally resisted turning over the dash and officer body camera footage to The Independent following a public information request, but after 127 days that included a complaint filed with the Texas Attorney General and subsequent efforts by an attorney for the newspaper, the footage was released.
Questions remain regarding what Hall was doing on the computer, and about the abrupt ending of the video that both officer Farmer and Campbell claim was cut off.
When The Independent acquired a copy of the grievance filed by Campbell, it also detailed allegations of drunken behavior at City functions, including the 2019 City Christmas party and a January 2020 Council and staff retreat. Campbell’s allegation that Hall threatened his two sons and used a racial slur in reference to them is also repeated in the lawsuit.
“What seems clear to me is that Mayor Hall is reckless,” O’Brien said. “Because of his recklessness the City has lost a very experienced, honorable and competent police chief who has done a lot of good for the city. While Maverick has his own individual grievances with the City that we’re pursuing in the lawsuit, I think that the citizens of Liberty Hill should be upset that the Mayor, and bad decisions of the Council members, has brought the City to this position.”
When The Independent asked about the suit Monday, Hall said by text message he was not aware of it and had no comment. According to Campbell, Hall and the City were served with the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon.
From the first time any of the allegations were made against Hall, he has categorically denied there is any truth to them, but has not addressed anything specifically.
“I can tell you this, that the comments made in (the grievance) are not valid,” Hall said in a previous interview regarding the grievance. “At the initial point some of these comments were made, Becky (Wilkins) spoke to every one of the employees and there was no comments from any of the employees that came remotely close to all that. This is the typical thing that happens with a disgruntled employee, or ex-employee trying to divert the real things from them to someone else to try to discredit somebody else when they’re the ones in trouble.”
At the time, Hall reiterated his belief that if the allegations were true they would have been made previously.
“In my opinion, when you bring up something that has supposedly happened for 18 to 20 months, after you’re terminated, but nothing is said before, then to me it looks like a witch hunt,” Hall said. “If any of it, even a small piece of it has any truth behind it, why wasn’t something said before?”
Despite Hall implying the allegations are fabricated, Campbell is also at risk in filing the lawsuit if it is proven the allegations were made up. O’Brien dismissed the notion that the allegations made by Campbell would simply be made up, saying that if a court deems a lawsuit to be frivolous the court can rule for sanctions against the party and their attorney.
The suit requests a jury trial if the case makes it that far.
“Any civil case can always be settled, that’s always a choice between the parties,” he said. “If we don’t settle it I’m happy to take this to trial and I wouldn’t expect that to be any sooner than nine months from now.”
The suit specifies Campbell is seeking “monetary relief over $250,000 but not more than $1 million. He further seeks a judgment for all other relief to which he deems himself entitled by law” that could include compensatory damages, as well as attorney fees, plaintiff costs, expert witness fees, and pre- and post-judgment interest.