Judge tosses most of officer’s suit against city

Several claims continue

Posted 6/11/24

A federal judge has thrown out most of the legal claims that a former police officer brought against the City of Powell, but is allowing some to proceed.

Former Powell Police Officer Ryan Davis …

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Judge tosses most of officer’s suit against city

Several claims continue


A federal judge has thrown out most of the legal claims that a former police officer brought against the City of Powell, but is allowing some to proceed.

Former Powell Police Officer Ryan Davis filed suit in December, alleging the city wrongfully and unfairly fired him in early 2022, while he was out of work with COVID-19 complications. Davis asserts city officials “wanted him out, they wanted to shut him up, so that he would stop questioning policies, training and policing actions” within the police department.

He’s seeking upwards of $1.1 million, while the city has generally denied the allegations.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper dismissed 10 of the 13 causes of action Davis filed. The judge found that, even if everything Davis alleges in his complaint is true, it isn’t enough to support some of his claims, while others are not allowed under the law.

Skavdahl also dismissed the claims that Davis asserted against former Police Chief Roy Eckerdt, Lt. Matt McCaslin, City Clerk Tiffany Brando and City Administrator Zack Thorington as individuals. That leaves the city as the only defendant.

It was not a complete victory for the Powell officials, however. Skavdahl said Davis can continue pursuing three claims, which allege the city breached an implied contract with him, reneged on a clear employment agreement and violated his constitutional right to due process.



Davis started with the department in March 2021, after moving his family from northern California specifically for the job. However, Davis’ complaint indicates he soon began clashing with supervisors over what he saw as improper training and procedures.

Davis included eight specific grievances in his complaint. For example, he asserts a former sergeant violated property owners’ Fourth Amendment rights by entering unlocked buildings without permission during nighttime security checks.

Davis also said he was improperly told to tow a vehicle just because it was in the way of city electric crews and was incorrectly told not to seize a stolen firearm from a local pawn store unless police got a warrant. 

“As documented in my daily observation reports I directly questioned the ‘this is how we do it’ attitude on numerous occasions and based upon a legal review, I was found to be correct,” Davis wrote.


Speaking as an employee

Through his attorney, Daniel Wilkerson, Davis said the city fired him because he was “a pain,” constituting a violation of his First Amendment rights.

However, Skavdahl concluded that Davis made all of his complaints in his role as a government employee. As a result, the officer didn’t enjoy the same rights as a private citizen — especially since he only raised the concerns with supervisors and coworkers.

“The public certainly has an interest in knowing about constitutional violations by the police and improper training of their local officers,” Skavdahl wrote in the May 23 ruling. “However, [Davis] never attempted to voice his concerns to the broader public if he in fact believed that his speech was of great public concern.”

For its part, the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office suggested on behalf of Eckerdt and McCaslin that Davis’ objections may have been “an effort to justify his conduct that otherwise would have been characterized as insubordinate.”



While Davis apparently suspects his critical comments were the true, underlying reason for his termination, he asserts he was told it stemmed from his lengthy illness.

It was in September 2021, after he became fully certified as a Wyoming peace officer, that Davis fell seriously ill with COVID-19. He spent a few days in the hospital and developed pneumonia, a rapid heartbeat and long COVID.

It knocked Davis out of work in October, November and December, and his cardiologist reportedly recommended he remain off the streets until at least March. However, Davis’ employment came to an end at a meeting in early January, where Davis says city leaders told him that his illness was “a hardship to the department.”

Davis contended his long COVID entitled him to protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that in any case, he should have been given a hearing to defend himself.

Noting that the Wyoming Supreme Court has said peace officers can be subject to termination “for cause” rather than “at-will,” Judge Skavdahl is allowing Davis to continue pursuing his claim that he was entitled to additional employment protections.

The city, meanwhile, has argued Davis was an at-will employee they could fire at any time, for any reason.


The strain of an ill officer

Skavdahl’s dismissals generally hinged on the finer points of law. For example, while he allowed Davis to continue with a claim that the city violated his right to procedural due process, he threw out an assertion that the officer’s substantive due process rights were violated. 

To prove a violation of substantive due process, a plaintiff must show their firing lacked a rational basis, but that wasn’t the case with the city’s alleged reasoning, Skavdahl said.

“While those explanations may have been calloused, inconsiderate and even might constitute a procedural due process violation, they were not arbitrary or irrational reasons,” the judge wrote. “It is easy to see how a patrol officer who is unable to work in his normal duties for three months might be a financial strain to the budget of a small-town police department.”

Meanwhile, the judge said Wyoming law makes the city immune from claims of negligent termination, gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, and Davis’ attorney conceded he may have brought the Americans with Disabilities Act claims under the wrong section of federal law.

Following Skavdahl’s rulings, the city filed its formal answer to Davis’ suit. The May 29 document, filed by attorney Tom Thompson of the Wyoming Local Government Liability Pool, broadly denies Davis’ allegations, often with the note that the city “is without sufficient knowledge to admit or deny the allegations.”

The city also makes a point of saying it gave Davis benefits under the Family Medical Leave Act that he hadn’t qualified for.

Among nine potential defenses to the suit, the city says it wasn’t the cause of the damages Davis says he’s suffered.