Fired Oregon officer: Alcoholism was a disability

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon police officer fired for driving drunk in an unmarked police car while off-duty has filed a $6 million lawsuit against the city, the police chief and others, alleging his rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit filed in Portland says the Gresham officer, Jason Servo, was suffering from alcoholism, a recognized disability under the act, and shouldn’t have been dismissed.

The suit also alleges Servo was denied due process, and the police union failed to represent him adequately.

“Just as with any type of disability or disease, they should have made some kind of effort to accommodate that, or some kind of effort to work with him, and not simply sever all ties,” said Shawn Kollie, one of Servo’s attorneys.

City Attorney David Ris and a police spokesman did not return phone messages seeking comment. Police Chief Craig Junginger was out of the office Friday.

Servo was arrested in January 2011 after he crashed into a ditch while off-duty. The lawsuit states that Servo, a detective who was the department’s lead firearms instructor, had taken the police vehicle to a firearms training session in the nearby city of Troutdale. Later, he joined fellow officers for dinner and drinks.

“This was a common practice among (Gresham) officers and had become an inherent part of the culture,” according to the suit filed late Thursday.

Servo was alone when his vehicle veered into a ditch. Though Servo refused to take breath or field sobriety tests, the Clackamas County sheriff’s deputy who arrested him later testified before the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training that Servo was probably one of the top 10 most intoxicated people he had arrested in almost 15 years of drunken-driving investigations.

Two months after the accident, Servo pleaded guilty to drunken driving and entered a diversion program. He fulfilled the program’s requirements and the DUI was dismissed.

Servo also voluntarily entered an in-patient program at a Serenity Lane drug-and-alcohol treatment center, where he was diagnosed as an alcoholic.

The lawsuit alleges the chief fired Servo to save money, ignoring the known disability of alcoholism.

“I know it sounds kind of like a conspiracy theorist’s claim,” Kollie said, “but we do believe there was a funding issue in the Gresham Police Department at the time.”

Separate from the lawsuit, Servo is appealing the standards-and-training agency’s decision to strip him of his police certification.

Servo is currently working as a private investigator.

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Follow Steven DuBois at twitter.com/pdxdub

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