Jury finds for IR, Thayer in Frizzo lawsuit
CRYSTAL FALLS—The disagreement between former Iron River Police Chief Laura Frizzo and the city of Iron River and its manager David Thayer always provoked intense reaction on both sides, even before she was officially terminated by Thayer on Dec. 9, 2016.
Frizzo’s supporters, and Frizzo herself, saw the first female police chief in the Upper Peninsula as the victim of a thinly veiled power play by Thayer and one that violated the law against discrimination based on gender. Her supporters picketed the Iron River City Hall during Frizzo’s medical leave prior to her termination and were vociferous defenders of Frizzo, especially on social media.
On the other side, often less public but certainly there, were those who felt that Thayer and the city had the right to fire Frizzo for insubordination and what they saw as her sometimes acrimonious and disrespectful interactions with the public and her coworkers.
No, there was never really much neutrality or dispassionate analysis of the case. Either Frizzo was an unfairly treated and discriminated against female police chief, one that was the linchpin in the successful prosecution of convicted murderer Kelly Cochran. Or she, in effect, forced the hand of Thayer with what he had called her unprofessionalism and examples of her volatility.
That uncertainty played out vividly during the two-week trial, which ended Dec. 21 when the four-man, three-woman jury decided that gender was not a motivating factor in Thayer’s dismissal of Frizzo. It showed in the testimony of the witnesses and it certainly showed in the fact that at one point, the jury stood deadlocked before it finally decided on the case after more than nine hours of deliberation.
So, when the jury reentered the court room with a verdict just after 4 p.m. (meaning five of the seven had found agreement) ending the possibility of a mistrial based on a hung jury, the apprehension in the air was palpable.
Despite that, however, the reaction of the parties involved was muted after hearing the jury’s decision. But make no mistake, the sides didn’t agree on the outcome any more than they had on just about anything else along the way.
“Obviously we’re very upset and don’t necessarily agree with the verdict,” said Brian Keck of Morgan & Meyers, PLC, who along with Courtney Morgan represented Frizzo. “We have to accept it as to what the jury ultimately came up with, but we think that the facts state otherwise. And we think that we presented a case that, if taken as presented, ultimately should have come back with a verdict in our favor.”
The city and Thayer were represented by attorneys Susan MacGregor and M. Sean Fosmire. MacGregor simply stated that she was happy with the verdict, but Thayer spoke for himself in front of assembled media afterward.
“Of course, I’m very pleased with the decision of the jury and I’m glad the case has finally come to a close,” he began. “It’s been very stressful for the community, the city, myself and to Laura, and I’m hoping with this verdict that we can heal and move on. And I wish Laura the best in her future endeavors.
“This has been a long two years and I’m glad it’s now over. And I think that it will be very beneficial to the community that it’s come to an end.”
Frizzo was unavailable for comment afterward. In her stead, Keck was asked about the possibility of an appeal.
“There’s always that option,” he said. “And the Court of Appeals are at our disposal if we so choose, but obviously I will consult with my client to determine what if anything we’re going to be doing from here on out.”
Keck said a decision on an appeal must be made “essentially within a month.”
And so brought the culmination, at least within the local court system, of a hotly disputed case between two individuals that simply could not coexist, almost from the start of their relationship that began with Thayer’s hiring in October 2015.
Hour upon hour of testimony basically showed how intractable the sides were and how widely divergent their views of the case were. The plaintiff’s case was made during the first week of the proceedings, which was reported on in the Dec. 19 issue of the Reporter. Frizzo’s case can be summarized by the language in the original complaint and in Keck’s closing statement, which lasted almost two hours.