MADISON LAKE — The former Madison Lake police chief is suing the city claiming he was wrongfully terminated.
The federal lawsuit filed by Daniel Bunde says he had post-traumatic stress syndrome and the city did not accommodate his disability. It also claims the city did not provide him required documents and made other procedural missteps before and after he was fired last year.
An attorney for the city says Bunde committed “serious misconduct” that justified his firing.
“The city of Madison Lake had compelling and well-documented reasons for terminating Dan Bunde’s employment as police chief, and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail in this lawsuit,” League of Minnesota Cities attorney Jana O’Leary Sullivan said in a statement to The Free Press.
The Madison Lake City Council fired Bunde in October 2020. He had been chief since 2003 and a member of the police department since 1998.
No specific reason for his termination was released to the public after the council held a closed meeting to discuss “allegations of misconduct and unprofessionalism.”
According to Bunde’s lawsuit, the firing stemmed from an encounter with a “known violent felon” who made threats to kill him. The threats came shortly after his home was vandalized, the suit claims.
“Given the city’s failure to investigate previous vandalism and threats against him, (Bunde) verbally responded to the threats on his own,” Bunde’s complaint, filed in late October, says.
The city’s written response says Bunde had a “personal vendetta” with someone over a shared romantic interest.
“Bunde engaged in serious misconduct by abusing his police chief position to further a personal vendetta against an individual,” O’Leary Sullivan told The Free Press.
Bunde’s attorney did not respond to an invitation to comment on the case.
The lawsuit claims Bunde told City Administrator Jeff Shoobridge or other city staff multiple times he was struggling with PTSD and anxiety.
In July 2020 Bunde took three days leave after an accident in which the victim died in his arms. He took another days leave shortly in August “because of the death threats and the stress associated with his job,” court filings say.
The city’s response counters Bunde only said he needed to “get his head straight” prior to the first leave and said he was taking the day off in August so he was not in the office if the other man came in to make a complaint.
The other man did file a written complaint, accompanied by text messages he’d received by Bunde, and Bunde was placed on paid leave.
The next day someone reportedly spray-painted “die pig” in Bunde’s yard. The suit claims the city “did not offer any safety or security” options to Bunde. The city response says the graffiti was examined and patrol of Bunde’s neighborhood was increased.
The lawsuit claims Bunde asked city staff to help him obtain medical retirement or a medical leave “to address his mental health issues.”
“Instead, without providing any accommodation for his mental health issues, the city proceeded to conduct an ‘investigation,’ the lawsuit alleges.
The suit claims the city violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act by failing to accommodate Bunde’s mental health disabilities.
The city’s response says Bunde said only that he planned to seek a medical retirement through the Public Employees Retirement Association and did not say why or seek help.
Bunde went to see a psychologist in September and reportedly was told he should not work as a police officer pending further testing. But the city reportedly was not informed of that until earlier this year.
“Contrary to Bunde’s unsupported allegations, the City did not discriminate or retaliate against him because of a medical condition or any other reason, O’Leary Sullivan said.
The lawsuit also claims the city violated state law and city policy as the complaint was investigated.
Those claims include that the city refused to provide a copy of the complaint that was filed, or a summary, or provide the identity of any witnesses so Bunde “could prepare to defend himself in the investigation.”
The city’s response says Bunde’s requests were referred to the independent attorney who was conducting the investigation.
Bunde also argues he should not have been required to go to Minneapolis to give a statement to the investigator, and before the interview he should have been provided a copy of the complaint and been informed he could have an attorney present and that he could record the interview.
State law gives complaint subjects the right to attorney and to record an interview, but does not say subjects must be informed of those rights.
The law says the interview must be conducted at the officers workplace or at another location upon mutual agreement. The city’s response acknowledged Bunde said he thought the interview should be conducted at the police department but denied Bunde objected to going to Minneapolis.
The lawsuit seeks financial damages. The case is tentatively scheduled to go to trial in early 2023. A pretrial conference is scheduled for next month.
O’Leary Sullivan said the August 2020 incident was not the only reason for Bunde’s termination. She cited a 2018 social media post in which Bunde mocked foreign language speakers at a national park he was visiting. The post garnered significant media attention and drew wide criticism as being xenophobic.
Bunde’s misconduct undermined the trust of the city and the public in his ability to protect and serve the community fairly and equally,” O’Leary Sullivan’s statement said. “Ultimately, the city held Bunde accountable for his misconduct, and we are confident that the court will agree.”