Cleveland settles retaliation suit with retired chief for $990K

Sean DeCrane accused officials in 2016 of violating his rights because they mistakenly believed he leaked information about an incoming chief


Adam Ferrise
cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio— The city of Cleveland settled with a retired fire battalion chief for $990,000, a move that came more than six years after he sued the city and claimed officials mistakenly retaliated against him.

Sean DeCrane, who worked as a firefighter for 25 years, accused city officials in 2016 of violating his First Amendment rights because they mistakenly believed he leaked information about an incoming fire chief’s lack of proper qualifications to a cleveland.com reporter.

In his lawsuit, Sean DeCrane accused city officials of denying him promotions, targeting him in unfounded internal investigations and shutting down his retirement party to humiliate him.
In his lawsuit, Sean DeCrane accused city officials of denying him promotions, targeting him in unfounded internal investigations and shutting down his retirement party to humiliate him. (Photo/Cleveland Fire Department)

DeCrane’s attorney, Subodh Chandra, said in a statement that DeCrane, who grew up in Cleveland, aspired to be a firefighter from a young age.

“Instead of being proud of that, Cleveland officials sought to incinerate his career because they thought he had exposed their own poor decision-making in choosing an unqualified fire chief — and they deprived Clevelanders of one of their finest public servants,” Chandra said.

City spokeswoman Marie Zickefoose, who said the law department would not release the settlement agreement on Wednesday, issued a statement that said: “The Bibb Administration is moving forward, and this settlement resolves an issue that we inherited and protects the city from further risk.”

DeCrane sued the city, former assistant safety director Edward Eckart about former Mayor Frank Jackson’s appointment of Daryl McGinnis as fire chief.

Eckart in 2013 recommended McGinnis for the role. DeCrane, at the time, oversaw the department’s fire training academy and ensured firefighters kept up with mandated training.

He warned Eckart and others that McGinnis lacked the training and certification required of a firefighter.

Cleveland.com reporter Leila Atassi asked to review McGinnis’ training records, prompting the mayor to demote McGinnis, who resigned two weeks later.

Eckart, according to the lawsuit, retaliated against DeCrane, mistakenly believing that DeCrane leaked the information to Atassi.

DeCrane accused city officials of denying him promotions, targeting him in unfounded internal investigations and shutting down his retirement party to humiliate him, the lawsuit said.

The case lasted for years, in part, because attorneys argued part of it to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled that Eckart wasn’t immune from being sued for First Amendment retaliation.

The court ruled that public officials still face liability for First Amendment retaliation even if they make a mistake about the identity of the person who provided the information.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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