Fired City Prosecutor Shawn Fuller has filed a lawsuit against the City of Scottsdale alleging he was terminated for whistleblowing on the city’s alleged mishandling of DUI cases.
The city has denied the allegation, stating Fuller was fired after an internal investigation uncovered issues with harassment and gender discrimination and undermined confidence in his leadership of the prosecutor’s office.
Fuller was hired by then-acting City Attorney Joe Padilla at the end of September 2019 and fired by City Attorney Sherry Scott about three months later.
The suit comes on the heels of a notice of claim sent to the city by Fuller’s attorney in February that sought $1.8 million in damages for wrongful termination.
Much of the suit mirrors that notice of claim, which alleged that Fuller was fired by City Attorney Sherry Scott in February after exposing a failure by the prosecutor’s office under his predecessor, Caron Close, to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to defendants in nine DUI cases.
Shortly after his hiring, Fuller audited the office’s handling of DUI cases going back five years after hearing concerns from staff, said Joshua Carden, Fuller’s attorney.
The suit and notice alleged Scott was hesitant to pursue the audit due to a concern for how it would affect Close – who retired in March 2019 following a personnel investigation into her leadership of the department.
The city denied the allegation, stating Scott “authorized and supported continuing the audit during the full length of the Prosecution Department’s file retention period and also authorized Mr. Fuller to take any of the corrective actions he recommended.”
The audit found nine cases between 2015 and 2019 in which potentially-exculpatory blood sample reports were not provided to defendants who had pled guilty, according to the suit.
It has resulted in at least one case dismissal and one vacated conviction.
Fuller sought to review cases beyond the five-year window of records maintained by the City Attorney by using police department records, but Scott denied that request.
The city denied it has a systemic problem with withholding evidence.
“In only 9 of the over 1,000 cases audited (less than 1 in a 100) were any potential concerns noted,” according to a statement from the city.
According to Carden, Fuller disclosed the results of the audit to Scott and they “did not go over well.”
The suit alleged that Fuller was later suspended by Close on Jan. 7 for “vague” reasons involving harassment of a female attorney or gender discrimination.
According to the suit, Scott later withdrew the harassment allegation “and stated that it was only gender discrimination.”
But a report prepared by an outside investigator hired by the city paints a different picture of Fuller’s firing.
The investigator, who interviewed Fuller and 11 assistant city prosecutors and other staff, sustained a handful of allegations against Fuller, including that he violated city administrative rules by bullying subordinates and treating female employees differently than men.
The report alleged that Fuller would not meet alone with female staff and that he was overly aggressive with a particular unnamed female assistant attorney, including berating her in front of other employees on Dec. 24, 2019.
Fuller, through his attorney and in the lawsuit, denied all allegations of harassment and gender discrimination.
The report also alleged that Fuller upended the normal processes of the prosecutor’s office without giving staff adequate direction as to how to implement the changes, and failed to take on a case load against the direction of his boss, Scott.
Carden, Fuller’s attorney, denied the allegations in the report but said they were not surprising.
“It’s essentially saying what we expected,” Carden said. “That the city would essentially double down, basically dredging any possible reason to support their termination of Shawn other than what the real reason is, which is he was digging through the old files that the city attorney’s office didn’t want dug through…,” Carden said.
Carden argued that the city and investigator cherry-picked information and much of what is stated in the report is “laughably wrong.”
Carden said during the termination meeting, Fuller was told by Scott that there was no evidence of gender discrimination and that there were no HR complaints filed.
“Shawn was never told what he was under investigation for other than this sort of loose allegation of discrimination or harassment,” Carden said.
Carden alleged the city initially did not have a written report to provide when Fuller requested it and only solicited complaints once Fuller filed his notice of claim.
“Then we do our notice of claim and now we have this 108-page behemoth of after-the-fact (allegations),” Carden said.
The city denied the allegation.
In a statement to the Progress, a city spokesperson said, “The investigation into Mr. Fuller’s conduct was initiated as a result of complaints from staff in the office about his conduct, which City Policy requires be investigated.”