After being on the losing end of some costly civil cases, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer finally got to enjoy a victory lap Thursday when a jury rejected a couple's claim that they were unfairly forced to resign from the Police Department.
"I am grateful and thankful by the outcome of this verdict," Dyer said outside Fresno County Superior Court. "I'm glad this trial is behind us."
Dyer said he felt relieved because three days of deliberations usually means the plaintiffs are going to prevail. But the jury soundly rejected Richard and Jaimy Gaines' claim that they were discriminated against for taking too much time off from work.
The couple had sought at least $1 million in damages, but the jury gave them nothing. They declined to comment.
Over the last several years, the police department has lost a costly string of cases that have drained Fresno's self-insurance fund just as the city has struggled with other budget problems.
The city has paid $3.3 million to settle lawsuits alleging police used excessive force to break up a 2005 homecoming celebration for a soldier returning from Iraq, including a $1.7 million settlement paid to a Fresno family in April 2010.
Last month, the city agreed to pay $1.3 million to the family of Steven Anthony Vargas to settle a police-shooting lawsuit. The city faces more than three dozen other lawsuits.
The Gaines' case has been costly because it took more than five years to reach trial and included dozens of pretrial depositions and hearings. The city hired Fresno attorney James Betts to defend it.
Richard and Jaimy Gaines came to the Fresno Police Department from the California State University, Fresno, police force in spring 2004. They contend that their bosses unfairly forced them to resign in August 2005 for taking time off from work. They said they needed the time off because of illnesses, recovery from a stab wound and to care for a special-needs son.
The couple's attorney, Lawrence Murray, told the jury that his clients were legally entitled to take time off because Richard Gaines got pneumonia and Jaimy (Quesada) Gaines -- she was Richard's fiancée back then, but they later married -- got bronchitis. The law also allows the couple to care for Richard Gaines' son, he said.
But during the five-week trial, Betts told jurors that the couple abused the city's leave policy by taking more than 45 days in sick leave and vacation during their short stints with the department. The couple also made phony claims about taking time to care for Gaines' son, Betts said.
Instead of being home sick or taking care of his son, Richard Gaines was at his second job -- the Fresno City College police academy -- teaching, Betts said. And the couple nearly always took their unscheduled time off at the same time, he said.
The stabbing incident involving Richard Gaines inside his Clovis home in July 2005 also sounded fishy, Betts said.
The two wounds to Gaines' side looked like scratches, Betts told jurors.
Richard Gaines didn't call 911. He called his wife, who was on patrol in Fresno.
Betts told the jury that once Clovis police officers began investigating the incident, "they didn't buy it." The case was never solved.
Dyer was a key witness because Murray called him the "second-chance chief," citing his penchant to give his officers another chance. The couple had asked Dyer for a second chance, but he didn't give it to them, Murray said.
The couple rebounded from their resignations. Richard Gaines, 45, is a lieutenant with the State Center Community College District Police Department. His 34-year-old wife is a Sanger police officer.
After the verdict Thursday, Dyer said the pending lawsuits are taking a toll on him, his staff and the Fresno community. But for now, he said, it felt good to win.
"We knew from the onset that what we did was right," he said. "The public wants us to hold employees accountable at work."