published Friday, September 16th, 2011

Former Chattanooga police officer awarded $680,000 after lawsuit against city

Former Chattanoooga police officer Mickel Hoback, right, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building on Thursday with his attorneys, Phillip Lawrence, left, and Michael Richardson. Hoback was fired in from the Chattanooga Police Department in 2009 and was awarded $680,000 in back pay and damages by a federal jury Thursday.
Former Chattanoooga police officer Mickel Hoback, right, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building on Thursday with his attorneys, Phillip Lawrence, left, and Michael Richardson. Hoback was fired in from the Chattanooga Police Department in 2009 and was awarded $680,000 in back pay and damages by a federal jury Thursday.
Photo by Patrick Smith.
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Should former police officer Mickel Hoback get his job back?

A former Chattanooga police officer won $680,000 in his lawsuit against the city but not what was most important to him — his job back.

Mickel Hoback and his attorneys, Phillip Lawrence and Michael Richardson, thanked the jury for its verdict, saying it vindicated Hoback, but that more work remains.

“It’s still uncertain whether [Hoback] will ever be reinstated to his job,” Lawrence said.

Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier ruled that the federal jury could award damages to Hoback but not give him back his job.

Hoback, who had been named “Officer of the Year” for Chattanooga in 2007, sought his job back with back pay and $1.5 million for damages incurred by the firing.

The federal jury awarded Hoback $130,000 in back pay, $330,000 in front pay and $250,000 for emotional suffering. Collier said that under the claim the city likely would pay Hoback’s attorneys fees.

The jury agreed with Hoback’s claim that the city had violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by firing him for post traumatic stress-related problems, following a city-hired pyschologist’s evaluation that the officer was unfit for duty.

  • photo
    Former Chattanoooga Police officer Mickel Hoback, right, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Court Building Thursday with one of his attorneys, Michael Richardson. Hoback was fired in from the Chattanooga Police Department in 2009 and was awarded 680,000 in back pay and damages by a Federal jury today.
    Photo by Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“A lot of negative things were said about me and my character that I could not address at the time,” Hoback said in a written statement. “I am eager and waiting for the day I can get back to serving the citizens of Chattanooga as a police officer.”

The Hamilton County Chancery Court ordered Chattanooga to return Hoback to his former police officer job in February, but that state case is under appeal by the city.

Assistant City Attorney Phillip Noblett thanked the jury for its service and said his office’s next steps will be to file appeal motions in response to the federal case.

Attorney briefs to the Tennessee Court of Appeals are due in the Chancery Court case in October. The court could return a decision by December.

During the four-day trial, retired Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper testified that he fired Hoback on July 21, 2009, based on the psychologist’s evaluation that the officer was “unfit for duty” because of self-reported incidents related to his post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis following service in Iraq with the Tennessee Army National Guard in 2004-05.

On April 14, 2009, a series of events led to Cooper’s firing Hoback.

  • photo
    Former Police Chief Freeman Cooper walks out of the U.S. District Court building after he testified Monday.
    Photo by Jenna Walker.
    enlarge photo

On that day, Hoback visited Michael Bearden, the counselor at the Chattanooga Vet Center who had been working for nearly two years on Hoback’s PTSD symptoms. Hoback wanted a change in a lithium prescription, and Bearden sent him to the nearby Veterans Administration Clinic for a psychiatrist to adjust the medication.

Dr. Estella Acosta briefly interviewed Hoback at the VA clinic and believed he was a suicide risk. She ordered him involuntarily committed to the VA Hospital in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Hoback returned to Bearden, saying Acosta’s decision was a mistake. Bearden pleaded with Acosta to rescind, saying there was some misunderstanding. Acosta refused.

Bearden advised Hoback to drive himself to Murfreesboro. He did, but was released the next day after a VA psychiatrist at the hospital determined he was not suicidal. The psychiatrist wrote a letter stating Hoback could return to normal duties.

Under Cooper’s order, city-hired psychologist Donald Brookshire interviewed Hoback when he returned to Chattanooga and reviewed Bearden’s counseling notes. Brookshire testified that he found Hoback unfit for duty and that he “had a pattern of making excuses or explaining away incidents.”

Hoback requested a second evaluation and that doctor found him fit for duty but recommended conditions to monitor him. A third psychologist, paid for by the Police Benevolent Association when Hoback appealed his firing, also determined Hoback was fit for duty.

All three psychologists testified that Hoback “embellished” or “exaggerated” parts of his mental health problems to Bearden in a possible attempt to increase his VA disability benefits.

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about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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eastridge8 said...

...uh...$680,000 dollars AND we,the taxpayers, get to pay his lawyers?? What's next?

September 16, 2011 at 11:26 a.m.
spendy said...

I think he deserves every dime & then some. Why was he singled out when they've kept that nut Jeanie Snyder in her position for all these years? Maybe he didn't "perform" the way she has "performed."

September 16, 2011 at 11:55 a.m.
joetheplumber said...

Hell he lied and tried to get extra disability benefits. Same as trying to steal from the taxpayers. The SOB needed to be fired not for mental reason but for not being trustworthy. There was nothing wrong with him, he can turn it off and on.

The city sould fight this until he does commit suicide and then pay up.

September 17, 2011 at 1:24 p.m.
cjhoback said...

First; Where is Dr. Acosta? She didn't show up in the courtroom. Don't look for her at the VA Clinic in Chattanooga!! Wonder why! The jury made the right decision. They could see and hear what was really happening.cooper stated that he didn't want "that kind of people" working as a police officer. And donna kelly why don't you quit your job and become a fireman? That's what you told Mike to do. brookshire:- Mike's lawyers were correct" Mike was judged by you before you even talked to him and he didn't stand a chance of explaining anything to you". That was a human life you were dealing with. You were not only hurting Mike but his entire family; including his little girl. But hearing you in court; I don't believe you'd care. Talk about arrogance! Was it worth the $300.00 per hour the CITY of Chattanooga paid you? I hope the new chief won't try to keep Mike off the force for a couple of years before reinstating him. I hope he's a man with good ethics. Time will tell. And to the jury- I don't know your names but thank-you for seeing the "truth". God Bless You All. And cooper; I'm only doing a little mothering! [as you mentioned in court] The verdict speaks for itself! Nothing personal.

September 17, 2011 at 2:25 p.m.
bilhoback said...

Hey,joetheplumber, sounds like you are suicidal and need counceling from Brookshire. You can find him in the CITY of Chattanooga. If you are out of work you can take care of coopers plumbing.

September 18, 2011 at 4:35 p.m.
Jennwhite said...

joetheplumber your funny. The city stated that claim and it was denied by even the Veteran's Administration but oh yea I'm sure it's just what you read and I'm sure you always believe that right. Get all the facts before making a decision. I was against this man at first until I started listening to the facts. There is not too much fighting the city can do now this guy has beat them in every court they have been in......something must have convinced not one, not two but three courts to overrule the city. You must be a friend of Chief Cooper or Chief Dodd seeing as how these are the individuals saying things that could not be backed up by facts.

September 19, 2011 at 7:45 a.m.
cornmeal said...

Het, whatever happened on appeal, or has a decision been made yet? Does interest accrue on the judgement until a final decision is made?

December 2, 2012 at 7:36 p.m.
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