Shot Down in Flames

A jury blows away a fired Denver deputy gunning for a big settlement from taxpayers.

A federal jury took just one hour earlier this month to decide that former Denver deputy sheriff Trina Burks-Richardson should receive nothing in her wrongful-discharge suit against the city. In addition, Burks-Richardson was ordered to pay the city's attorney's fees.

The city, however, is going to have to wait in line for the cash: Burks-Richardson filed for bankruptcy in August.

Sheriff's officials have been duking it out with Burks-Richardson in various courtrooms for the past five years, since shortly after she was arrested in Lubbock, Texas, and charged with two counts of attempted murder ("She Fired, They Fired," October 24). Burks-Richardson was accused of shooting up a home and car in Lubbock following an argument with two women over the whereabouts of her husband, a former prison inmate then on parole.

Burks-Richardson, who, unbeknownst to the city, already had a criminal record for burglary, criminal mischief and assault when she was hired as a deputy in January 1990, was fired for gross misconduct in November 1991. But she claimed the real reason she was let go is because she is a black woman. Burks-Richardson also claimed she was denied due process in appealing her termination and that other sheriff's staffers violated her rights by searching her home and requiring her to undergo urinalysis tests.

Burks-Richardson fought her firing every step of the way, filing appeals with Denver's Career Service Board, the state unemployment compensation board and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and dragging the city through two federal trials held this year. A jury decided in February that her rights had not been violated by the searches and urine tests, and she was ordered to pay the city's court costs. The payment, however, was placed in abeyance until the second trial, held November 13.

That second trial was necessary only because U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham decided Burks-Richardson hadn't been granted due process in her initial appeal to the city (the witnesses to the Lubbock shooting hadn't appeared in person to be cross-examined by Burks-Richardson's attorney). The only issue under consideration at the November trial was how much Burks-Richardson should be compensated for that lack of due process.

The jurors quickly determined that she should get nothing. "We're happy with the jury's decision," says sheriff's captain Carlos Jackson, "and we think it's the right one."

After the jury's verdict, Nottingham also ordered Burks-Richardson to pay the attorney's fees owed from the first trial. Her attorney, William Richardson (no relation), has asked for an extension of time so he can appeal the verdict.

And just how Burks-Richardson will pay the city is uncertain--she's apparently broke. She filed for bankruptcy August 21, claiming $74,000 in assets and $102,000 in liabilities. According to the bankruptcy file, Burks-Richardson owes $25,000 for medical bills, and government authorities are demanding that she repay more than $9,000 in alleged overpayments from food stamps and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Burks-Richardson has disputed those debts.

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