LA MARQUE — Russel Washington, the former police chief who filed a lawsuit claiming he was wrongfully fired by the La Marque school board in 2010, said he has struggled to find work in law enforcement since his termination and has developed stress-induced illnesses that make it difficult for him to keep down solid food.
Washington took the witness stand in Galveston’s federal court Monday seeking $10 million in damages. He claims he was fired without due process while under indictment on a charge of falsifying records to obtain a car title. Those charges were later dropped.
Washington filed the lawsuit in 2012 after unsuccessful attempts to get his job back.
Washington’s attorney, Susan Soto, argued Monday the former chief — “a highly decorated officer and a product of the La Marque Independent School District” — was fired from a job he loved without the opportunity to defend himself.
She said Washington was not allowed to defend himself at the board meeting where he was ultimately terminated after a 4-3 vote by school trustees. Former trustee Cynthia Bell-Malveaux, who at the time had a pending defamation lawsuit against Washington, should have recused herself from the vote because of an existing bias, Soto said.
Attorney Paul Lamp, who is representing the school district, said administrators gave Washington several opportunities to argue his case before the school board meeting.
He called the criminal investigation and the indictment against Washington a cloud that hung over the entire school district and required action on the part of administrators and trustees.
Lamp said the district sent two letters to Washington seeking explanation about the investigation, but received only a three-sentence response from Washington’s attorney.
Lamp said Washington refused to discuss the investigation with the former head of human resources for the school district or former Superintendent Ecomet Burley.
Washington said he has been unable to find a job in law enforcement since his termination, and now works in construction on an “every-other-day” basis.
He said stress-related illnesses caused by his termination have made it difficult for him to eat and have impaired his ability to coach youth sports teams, which Washington said he is passionate about.
Testimony in the trial is expected to continue today.