A former Manhattan Beach fire chief is asking a judge to reinstate him with back pay, alleging he was wrongfully fired in 2020 in retaliation for complaining about problems with what he said was an outdated computer-aided dispatch system and the vendor hired to upgrade it.
Ex-Fire Chief Daryn Drum’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, whistleblower retaliation, violation of the right of freedom of speech and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Drum also seeks unspecified damages in the suit filed Friday, which names as defendants the city of Manhattan Beach and City Manager Bruce Moe.
A representative of the city could not be immediately reached for comment.
The city’s computer-aided dispatch system was so old that the vendor that built the original one was no longer able to provide ongoing support for it, according to the suit.
Drum allegedly told Moe multiple times that he was “extremely concerned” with the ability of Mark 43, the vendor platform hired to replace the CAD system, to deliver a safe, effective and reliable product. Although Moe said he shared Drum’s concerns, the city manager “failed to take meaningful, lasting steps to address them for the safety of the inhabitants of the city,” the suit states.
Although Drum lost his position in retaliation for expressing his concerns about the CAD system, the city took statements he made out of context to justify taking away his job, including one less than a month after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, according to the suit. Drum was speaking about Mark 43 and how he wanted the company to provide “an effective product in a timely fashion,” the suit states.
“I’m comfortable continuing to move forward, but not letting our guard down,” Drum said during a June 16, 2020, meeting of the South Bay Regional Public Communications Authority, which dispatches fire services for Manhattan Beach, according to his suit. “And pardon my vernacular, but not taking our foot of their throat either … I think your foot needs to be clearly on their throat, and they need to feel it and they need to feel that constant pressure every single day that we mean business.”
Drum, now 56, made no reference to any news topics or incidents involving law enforcement at the meeting and police and fire chiefs present agreed with his comments and sentiment, the suit states.
Five days earlier, Drum participated in a podcast with Manhattan Beach Police Chief Derrick Abell in which he expressed his support for police and the difficult job they have, the suit states.
“You’re one good shooting away from civil unrest,” Drum said, using the word “good” to describe something of a noticeably large size or quantity, according to the suit.
Neither Abell, Moe nor any other city official expressed any concern with Drum’s comments, according to his court papers.
Later than same month, Drum was instructed to meet with Moe and other city officials and was pressured by Drum to resign, the suit states.
“Drum asked for the chance to think about this difficult, important decision and speak to his family about it over the weekend, but he was not allowed to do so,” the suit alleges. Moe then told Drum that he was being fired, the suit states. No city officials gave Drum prior notice that he was going to be reprimanded or fired for his remarks, the suit states.
The city’s stated reasons for firing Drum were the two statements, plus a difference in management styles, according to the suit. Moe’s public statement that Drum’s comments “do not reflect our core values as a city” implied that Drum was a racist, the suit alleges.
In May of this year, a hearing officer who considered Drum’s appeal of his firing released a report finding the firing to be appropriate and the City Council in July voted to accept the hearing officer’s recommendation, the suit states.
“As a direct result of Moe’s and the City Council’s decision, the sterling reputation Drum built over the course of 30 years in emergency services was destroyed overnight, which effectively precluded his chances of obtaining alternative employment in his field,” the suit states.