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Posted: Wednesday, 04 June 2014 2:50PM

Unruh, O'Brien Sue Benton Harbor, Former EM Over Firings



Allegations of racism that had circulated for a year against former Benton Harbor emergency manager Tony Saunders are being laid out in a wrongful termination lawsuit in federal court from a pair of former Public Safety Department leaders. Former Deputy Director of Public Safety Robert O'Brien and former Captain Dan Unruh are suing Saunders and the city in federal court, requesting a jury trial as they seek reinstatement to the department. Both are white, and allege their race played a significant role in their firings in May 2013.

The lawsuit alleges Saunders directed now-suspended Public Safety Director Roger Lange to make $80,000 in cuts from the department and said either Unruh or O'Brien had to go. Lange refused to fire either man, calling them the "backbone" of the department and telling Saunders he could find the cuts without eliminating the officers according to the lawsuit. Both Unruh and O'Brien claim in their lawsuit they were fired on the basis of race, noting Dan McGinnis was promoted to interim chief when Lange was suspended. Saunders is accused of telling O'Brien he could never be chief because he's white, and added McGinnis was his "brother." He also allegedly told Lange and Unruh that McGinnis was his "boy" and "untouchable."

In the 14-page lawsuit, O'Brien and Unruh are seeking damages, back pay, and their old jobs back. Unruh is now the police chief in Bridgman. Lange's lawsuit against the city regarding his suspension is still pending.

   

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