City settles lawsuit with former police chief

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By Rachel Madison

The City of Liberty Hill has settled a lawsuit with former police chief Maverick Campbell.

On July 14, the City Council voted unanimously to execute a settlement agreement for the Campbell v. City of Liberty Hill et al lawsuit in the amount of $39,308.32, with $13,102.77 payable in attorney fees and expenses to O’Brien Law, P.C.; and $26,205.55 to Campbell, for applicable income tax withholding and Texas Municipal Retirement System contributions.

In the agreement, Campbell relinquished all claims for unpaid compensation, including back pay, retroactive pay, loss of pay, leave of absence pay, vacation pay and sick leave. The agreement states Campbell is responsible for paying all attorney fees and costs associated with bringing the lawsuit against the City, whether already incurred or incurred in the future.

According to the agreement, which was provided to The Independent in response to an Open Records Request, the City of Liberty Hill “[has] denied and still [denies] liability on the merits of [the] plaintiff’s claims.” The agreement states that the City’s sole purpose of entering into the settlement agreement was to avoid “the time, expense and uncertainty which would accompany further litigation.”

Neither Campbell or his attorney responded this week to multiple calls, texts and emails from The Independent.

In response to the settlement, the City issued the following statement to The Independent this week: “At the time Campbell’s employment with the City of Liberty Hill was terminated, the previous administration had legitimate concerns regarding his suitability for continued service in the community. Subsequent to termination, Campbell raised objections regarding alleged deficiencies in the notice and documentation related to his discharge. Rather than continue to dispute this matter, the parties chose to settle the suit and put it behind them.”

The settlement agreement does not prevent Campbell from appealing a negative F-5 termination report submitted by the City to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), and likewise does not prevent the City from defending the F-5 originally submitted to TCOLE. A negative F-5 can impact an officer’s career as many agencies will not hire someone who may have been dishonorably discharged.

Campbell filed the lawsuit against the City and former Mayor Rick Hall, on Oct. 1, 2020, in District Court for breach of contract and sought more than $290,000 in lost wages as well as other damages. Campbell alleged the City failed to follow the proper procedure in his termination.

The former police chief was fired in March 2020, following an internal investigation spanning roughly two weeks. The City Council voted unanimously to terminate Campbell, citing a violation of Section 13 of his contract, including “willful misconduct, gross negligence, dishonest or fraudulent conduct, or such other acts in bad faith which result in injury to employer.”

The City’s internal investigation began after an incident occurred with Campbell and his wife on Feb. 23, 2020, at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. The Campbells were attending a law enforcement conference where Campbell was representing the City of Liberty Hill.

According to an investigative report released by the New Jersey State Police, on the night of Feb. 23, 2020, two officers from the New Jersey State Police noticed a group of people at the casino’s security podium and offered their assistance. That is where they interviewed Campbell’s wife about an argument between the couple that occurred in the casino. Officers viewed the security video and observed the interaction, which concluded with Campbell throwing a chair that knocked over a trash can.

“He then departed, it should be noted that at no time did Maverick become physical with [Mrs. Campbell],” the incident report states.

Later, officers contacted Campbell in his hotel room, where he provided access to the safe that contained his firearm. Officers secured the weapon and returned it the following day when the matter was resolved. Campbell’s wife did not file a complaint against her husband and the report states that “due to the fact the victim did not wish to pursue the matter any further, this case can be considered closed.” Campbell was never placed under arrest or charged.

“I had a disagreement with my wife,” Campbell told The Independent at the time. “It was a simple disagreement that got blown out of proportion. A lot of rumors started spreading and people reacted based on those rumors being factual. There was no violence; there were no charges.”

The former chief filed a grievance in April 2020, seeking reinstatement following his termination and also requested the City retain an independent investigator to review the City’s internal investigation. That investigation, conducted by Bruce Mills, a former Austin Police Department Assistant Chief and owner of his own consulting firm, stated that “the City of Liberty Hill followed its policies and procedures in taking the actions that it did to terminate the employment of Maverick Campbell.”

However, from the onset of the internal investigation through the filing of the lawsuit, Campbell maintained that former Mayor Hall had used the incident in Atlantic City as an “excuse to find a reason to terminate him for other reasons,” citing Hall’s increased involvement in department operations, pressure on certain personnel decisions, and excessive ride-alongs with officers.

“It was as if there was some sort of very strange, odd obsession with being involved with the police department and being involved in controlling what my decisions were even though that authority is given to me by the council,” Campbell told The Independent at the time. “The reason I included all of the information about the mayor’s behavior in my grievance was to show the pattern of abuse that I know led to my termination because of threats against my job by the mayor. The incident in New Jersey was simply an excuse and he reacted on emotions instead of facts, making false claims of an arrest when there was no arrest.”

The former chief did win an appeal hearing in August 2020 with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), entitling him to unemployment benefits. The ruling from TWC stated “the claimant’s (Campbell’s) firsthand testimony did not reveal any misconduct and the employer failed to carry its burden of proving any acts of misconduct. Under these circumstances, the (Appeal) Tribunal must conclude that the claimant was not discharged for misconduct with the work” (in accordance with Section 207.044 of Texas Labor Code). The TWC decision also stated that, “The employer received most, if not all, of the information it used to make its decision to discharge the claimant from secondhand sources.”

The current settlement agreement was signed first by Campbell on July 12, and later signed by city representatives, including Mayor Liz Branigan, City Secretary Nancy Sawyer and City Attorney Alan Bojorquez on July 15. The agreement was also approved and signed by Julia Gannaway, an attorney for the City of Liberty Hill during the dispute.

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