California Chief Sues Seeking Reinstatement

A California fire chief who was fired last year over public statements he made, has filed suit alleging wrongful termination, whistleblower retaliation, and violation of his civil rights. Manhattan Beach Fire Chief Daryn Drum was fired by city manager Bruce Moe following two sets of public comments that Moe said “do not reflect our core values as a City.”

Chief Drum contends that neither set of comments were inappropriate, and that Moe sought to remove him as fire chief because of concerns he was raising about the city’s antiquated CAD system, and a problem-plagued, years-overdue replacement system. The city’s current CAD system was outdated and no longer supported by the original provider. A replacement CAD system had been ordered prior to Chief Drum being hired, but was over two years behind schedule. The new system was supposed to have been operational in 2017, and Chief Drum was pressing Moe to take action to pressure the vendor.

The comments that led to Moe’s decision to terminate Chief Drum were made just days prior. On June 11, 2020, Chief Drum was participating in a podcast with the city’s police chief. During the discussion Chief Drum was expressing his support for law enforcement when he made the comment: “You’re one good shooting away from civil unrest.” According to the complaint, Chief Drum heard no complaints from Moe or any other city official following the podcast.

On June 16, 2020, in a meeting to discuss strategies for dealing with the CAD system vendor, Chief Drum stated: “I’m comfortable continuing to move forward, but not letting our guard down. And pardon my vernacular, but not taking our foot of their throat either…I think your foot needs to be clearly on their throat, and they need to feel it and they need to feel that constant pressure every single day that we mean business.”

The June 16, 2020 comment was apparently recorded and became widely circulated. Moe terminated the Chief’s employment on June 19, 2020 after the chief refused his request to resign. Chief Drum claims Moe’s press release announcing the termination implied that he was a racist, leaving him unable to find employment. He further claims that he and his family have been hounded by the media and subjected to ridicule and scorn.

Chief Drum’s lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court seeking a writ of mandamus to order his reinstatement. The grounds for the writ include:

  • Count 1 – Whistleblower violation under state law
  • Count 2 – Wrongful termination in violation of public policy
  • Count 3 – Violation of the California Firefighter Procedural Bill of Rights
  • Count 4 – Violation of the First Amendment – Free Speech
  • Count 5 – Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Here is a copy of the Petition for a Writ of Mandamus (complaint):

Here is a memo in support of the petition:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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