Suit: Village illegally fired police chief for injury

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There’s more controversy for Sand Lake after the former police chief filed a lawsuit against the village in northern Kent County.

Jim Reamsma claims his Family and Medical Leave Act rights were violated.

Danielle Hardenburg, the village president, wrote that Reamsma was fired because of an injury unrelated to policing, but then changed her story.

“We feel that this is a very strong case,” Brad Glazier, one of the attorneys for Reamsma, said.

His firm, Bos & Glazier, specializes in family medical leave cases. He said Reamsma’s termination letter, which lists his last day as Dec. 3, 2018, makes this one easier.

“Your termination is the consequence of your inability to perform job duties for an extended period of time at which the village cannot hold your position,” Glazier read from the village’s letter to Reamsma.

When 24 Hour News 8 contacted Hardenburg in December, she rejected a request for an interview but wrote, “Jim was not able to provide services to the Village of Sand Lake on extended amount of time.”

“Nothing here for a story, sorry,” she added to end the email.

Though she declined multiple interview requests by 24 Hour News 8, Hardenburg did speak with the Cedar Springs Post. She told the local newspaper that her “wording was wrong.” She explained that the village actually suspended Reamsma due to complaints by at least one officer who worked for him and citizens.

“That’s called pretext,” Glazier said. “When an employer tries to come up with some bogus reason for termination, and that’s what we think happened here.”

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request reveals former Sand Lake police officer Andy DeLobel made all of complaints against Reamsma two days before Reamsma was injured in a fall in November. There were no complaints by citizens included in the FOIA response that village leaders sent 24 Hour News 8.

“He’s a very hostile person,” DeLobel said of Reamsma over the phone Thursday. “It’s shocking to me that he’s a pastor. He’s one of the meanest people that I’ve ever met in my life.”

DeLobel was fired in December by an acting police chief.

Before that, he emailed Hardenburg complaints about Reamsma dating back to July 2018. DeLobel told 24 Hour News 8 he didn’t speak up sooner because Reamsma and the former village president were close, so he didn’t think there would be any action.

But the lawsuit filed by Reamsma claims that “Hardenburg and DeLobel had a personal and romantic relationship.”

“That is absolutely false,” DeLobel told 24 Hour News 8.

“Danielle and I never dated,” he continued. “We had a working relationship. We were friends. We worked together at two jobs. I guess people assume things, apparently.”

DeLobel has filed a civil rights complaint with the state against the village. He says he was also the victim of wrongdoing and not given a reason for his termination.

Reamsma’s legal team says there’s no need to argue about the complaints against Reamsma because they were never shown to be true. For them, the case is proved in writing.

“This case is unusual because the employer came right out and said no, medical leave was the reason for the termination,” Glazier said.

Reamsma’s termination letter also claimed that the village didn’t have to issue FMLA benefits or hold Reamsma’s job, but attorneys say all municipalities are subject to FMLA.

Village leaders also recently voted to shutter the entire police department.

“We believe that was a consequence of this lawsuit and is an effort on their part to cut off the damages,” Glazier said.

Reamsma’s attorneys say they tried to settle with the village without a lawsuit, but village leaders never contacted them.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Know something newsworthy? Report It!

News 8 Links