By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
A 12-person jury which included one Asian American determined that former Medina police Chief Jeffrey Chen was not a victim of racial discrimination which forced him out of his job. The U.S. District Court of Western Washington verdict contrasts the original jury decision which awarded Chen $2 million.
Although a jury found in Chen’s favor in the original trial, the judge in charge of the case determined that Chen’s lawyer violated a pretrial order during the trial which may have influenced the jury. As a result, a new trial was ordered and commenced with jury selection on August 11th. A new trial court judge presided over this trial. In an attempt to halt any possible attorney misconduct, the judge conducted the jury selection by asking questions of the potential jurors rather than the custom of having the attorneys question jurors about their potential biases and feelings toward the potential issues of the trial.
Chen sued the city of Medina and Medina’s City Manager Donna Hanson claiming that he was fired due to his race. The city of Medina and Hanson’s attorneys asserted that it was the job issues which led to his dismissal. Among the offenses, they claimed Chen had used city credit cards for his own personal use, voided traffic tickets for influential Medina residents, and tried to access the city’s email archive without authorization.
During the trial, it was brought up that Chen was investigated while he was at the Seattle Police Department for financial misconduct. Chen left the department before the end of the investigation which was subsequently dropped.
In opening statements, Chen’s lawyer, Marianne Jones called him “a good man, a strong man and a good police chief.” Jones asserted that Chen’s “career was destroyed” and he could no longer work as a police officer as a result of Hanson and that he was also the victim of racial discrimination. She indicated that Hanson had an “inexplicable dislike” for Chen. She also argued that Chen has not been able to find another job and that the best job Chen could obtain was a job at Costco that pays $23.50 an hour.
Chen claimed several interactions with Hanson lead to his belief that he was the victim of racial discrimination. Chen claimed that Hanson made racially insensitive comments to him including, “I thought you Chinese people were supposed to be more patient than this,” and “Do you people celebrate Thanksgiving?”
The city’s attorney denied the allegations of racial discrimination citing them as baseless. She stated that Chen lied about Hanson’s comment about Chinese people being more patient. Also, she stated that Hanson was talking to a group including a vegan when she made the comment about whether Chen celebrated Thanksgiving.
It appears that the jury of 12 which included one Asian and another person of color agreed with the attorney for Medina. They found that the city and Hanson did not engage in an adverse employment action and that Chen’s race was not a substantial factor in his dismissal. In addition, the jury decided that there was not an issue with the dismissal of Chen and that Chen’s due process rights were not violated.
Chen’s attorney had no comment on the jury verdict and did not state whether they would appeal the court’s decision. Notably, toward the end of the trial, Chen’s attorney brought a motion seeking a ruling on evidence she claims was withheld by the city of Medina at this trial and the original trial. She requested a verdict in favor of Chen and sanctions to be assessed in the amount of $500,000. A thumb drive containing information not previously provided to Chen’s attorney was produced during trial per court order. Chen’s attorney claims that the evidence on the drive was substantial in proving Chen’s case. There was no ruling on this issue prior to the conclusion of the trial.