OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — The family of a former police captain who died by suicide this year sued the city of Fremont, claiming its mayor, city manager and police chief caused him “severe emotional distress" that led to his death.
Annabel Bobbitt and her two children sued in Alameda County Superior Court on Monday, claiming the city officials inflicted severe emotional distress on Capt. Fred Bobbitt, who joined the Fremont Police Department in 1985.
Bobbitt began working full time in 1990 and served in many positions on the force, including as a robbery/homicide detective sergeant, lieutenant and acting police chief.
“Frederick Bobbitt, Jr. spent countless hours volunteering in the community and mentoring police officers on his own time. He was everyone's ‘fix it man,’” his family say in their complaint.
The plaintiffs say in September 2020, then-Police Chief Kim Peterson told Bobbitt that City Manager Mark Danaj was upset with him over Bobbitt’s refusal to violate the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act — a California law governing labor-management relations for local government employees — while negotiating with the Fremont Police Association during the summer of 2019. At the request of Danaj, Peterson told Bobbitt to come up with an early exit plan.
The following month, Bobbitt got a separation agreement drafted by the city attorney, and when he rejected it he was removed from his position leading patrol and reassigned to an administrative position, on a performance improvement plan.
In March 2021, Bobbitt submitted a complaint of discrimination and retaliation to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and Danaj announced his decision to appoint Capt. Sean Washington, mentored by Bobbitt, as the new chief effective upon Peterson's retirement. In April that year the Officers for Justice sent a letter to Mayor Lily Mei, protesting Bobbitt’s reassignment and requesting an independent investigation of the city manager's personnel decision.
In May, Bobbitt filed a claim of ongoing retaliation and other violations with the city. On Dec. 14. Arbitrator Renee Mayne issued her opinion finding "clear and convincing evidence" that Danaj and Peterson violated the city's antiretaliation policy. She rescinded the performance improvement plan, expunged all adverse comments in Bobbitt's personnel file and immediately reinstated Bobbitt to his position leading the patrol division.
Mei, the new City Manager Karena Shackleford and new Police Chief Sean Washington did not schedule a meeting with Bobbitt. “Rather, they circled the wagons,” according to the complaint, which adds Bobbitt was stigmatized for complaining and challenging top officials.
On Jan. 15, Bobbitt sent an email to Washington asking him about Peterson’s claims about his reassignment. Washington replied that he was included in high-level briefings about the city's defense to Bobbitt's allegations of retaliation and said he did not report any performance deficiencies, but could understand why Peterson felt the performance review was an appropriate and necessary management tool.
The family says they believe Washington agreed with the city’s reassignment plan in exchange for being named the new police chief.
“This was the ultimate betrayal by a man he thought was his friend and the man he mentored. Rather than embrace and enforce a binding and enforceable "order" from the arbitrator, Chief Washington chose to stay ‘neutral’ and pretend nothing had happened,” the family claimed.
The Department of Fair Employment Housing informed Bobbitt on Jan. 31 that the city declined mediation regarding his retaliation complaint, and in February the city announced a national search to hire a deputy chief.
On the weekend of Feb. 19 and Feb. 20, Bobbitt spoke on the phone with Washington. Following that weekend, on the morning of Feb. 21, Bobbitt told his wife that he did not think he could go to work because he was afraid Washington would place him on a 5150 hold.
Later that morning at approximately 8:30 a.m. Bobbitt died by suicide “without any warning” and did not leave a note, according to his family.
The family says that the city is responsible for his death for causing Bobbitt’s mental distress. They filed a six-month tort claim on Aug. 16, which was denied.
“The city of Fremont, by and through its employees and officials, intentionally and negligently acted and failed to act for the purpose of causing Capt. Bobbitt to suffer severe emotional distress,” the family says in its complaint. “The goal was to force Capt. Bobbitt to voluntarily separate from his position with the Fremont Police Department, damage his career and reputation, and abandon his retaliation claims, i.e., chill his speech.”
The plaintiffs seek damages, including for widow’s retirement benefits based on Bobbitt’s lost “promotions and career opportunities,” and reduced retirement benefits because of his death.
Fremont’s city attorney, manager and mayor did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
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