Portage settles lawsuit with former police officer

2013-12-24T10:00:00Z 2013-12-25T22:42:06Z Portage settles lawsuit with former police officerJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | City officials approved a settlement Monday night to end a four-year legal battle with a former police officer.

The City Council approved paying Roger Peele $132,500 to settle a lawsuit he filed in federal court in 2009.

In the lawsuit, Peele claimed he was reassigned from detective to duty officer after speaking to a Times reporter about Steve Charnetzky losing the 2007 Democratic mayor primary battle to former Mayor Olga Velazquez. Peele supported Charnetzky and commented that Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain, who endorsed Velazquez, should not have involved himself in the election.

Peele was reassigned the day after his comments were published in The Times.

Tom Dogan, a Portage attorney representing the city in this case, said the settlement is not an admission of guilt by the city. It was a financial decision by the city to settle the claim, he said.

"We discussed the risks and rewards, the strengths and vulnerabilities to the city," said Dogan, adding he believes the city would have won the lawsuit had it gone to a jury, but the costs of continuing the lawsuit outweighed that decision.

Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham estimated the lawsuit has cost the city between $300,000 and $400,000 in legal fees in the last four years.

Dogan said the settlement amount came after a 10-hour mediation session conducted by a retired Indiana Court of Appeals judge. The city paid the mediator's fees.

In March 2012, a federal judge granted judgement in favor of the city and police department. However, in July 2013, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago reversed that decision, allowing the lawsuit to move forward.

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