PORT ST. LUCIE — Former Police Chief Don Shinnamon has filed suit against the city, claiming it wrongfully terminated his employment agreement in December 2010, and, therefore, owes him $237,000 for lost salary, benefits and retirement income.
According to the complaint, filed in St. Lucie County circuit court Feb. 17, Port St. Lucie wrongfully and involuntarily terminated Shinnamon's contract on Dec. 2, 2010 without cause and proper notice, which is a violation of his contract.
"Defendant has breached the agreement by not paying him his salary, benefits, and other economic losses incurred through Jan. 11, 2013," the complaint states.
Reached via email, Shinnamon referred questions to his Daytona Beach attorney, Kelly Chanfrau.
Though the suit does not specify a dollar amount, Chanfrau said Friday Shinnamon is entitled to $237,000 (two years of pay, minus three months of severance already paid by the city).
"I do feel like it is a very strong case for breach of employment agreement," Chanfrau said.
In a news release, Chanfrau said Shinnamon decided to file suit after repeated attempts to negotiate an amicable resolution with the city were unsuccessful.
City spokesman Ed Cunningham said Friday the city would not comment on pending litigation.
Shinnamon entered into an employment agreement with the city on Dec. 2, 2008 with an effective date of employment of Jan. 12, 2009. According to the agreement, Shinnamon would be paid $135,000 per year and receive $500 per month in car allowances, 40 hours of compensatory time annually, and $50 per month for a cellphone allowance.
Shinnamon's contract was set to expire Jan. 11, 2011. However, according to the contract, the city needed to give Shinnamon three months notice if it chose not to renew. Since the city didn't give notice, itautomatically renewed through January 2013. Subsequently, City Manager Jerry Bentrott fired Shinnamon on Dec. 2, 2010 without proper notice, the suit states.
Shinnamon's firing came two months after he laid off two dozen police officers, which sparked controversy. Shinnamon said Bentrott left him with no choice after ordering him to cut his budget by a certain percentage. Shinnamon said he had already cut his budget by $8.1 million before it became necessary to lay off officers.
Initially, Bentrott refused to publicly say why he fired Shinnamon but later in an interview with Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in August of last year, he said a personality conflict between him and Shinnamon led to his firing.
Chanfrau said the city has yet to formally inform Shinnamon as to why he was fired.
"We have a theory as to why he was fired and that will be fully investigated during discovery before trial," Chanfrau said.
The news release states Shinnamon regrets that filing suit has become necessary and "looks forward to making public his experience with the city and its leadership. When the facts become known, it will be obvious 'personality' was never the issue."
The news release states that Shinnamon was hired by the city at the beginning of the worst financial crisis in the city's history and highlights some of his accomplishments. Within two years, at the direction of Bentrott, Shinnamon reduced the Police Department's budget by $10 million while maintaining the same level of police services, it says. Crime had risen every year in the five years before Shinnamon's arrival and then went down during Shinnamon's two-year tenure, the news release says.