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Tacoma city manager fires beleagured DV victims advocate; lawsuit filed

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Sep. 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm with 13 Comments »
September 1, 2010 2:13 pm

Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson has fired Gloria China Fortson, the city’s longtime domestic violence victims’ advocate.

In turn, Fortson has filed suit against the city, challenging a hearing examiner’s ruling last month that upheld city findings that Fortson broke ethics rules by helping a client leave the state with her children, in violation of a court order. (We wrote extensively about Fortson’s ethics case here.)

China Fortson testifies at her city appeals hearing last week.
China Fortson is sworn in at her city appeals hearing in July.

“We made the determination that termination was in fact necessary,” Anderson told me today.

Fortson was notified by mail of the decision on Aug. 27, Anderson said. She will be terminated effective at the end of business today, he added.

Along with the city’s ethics findings, and the hearing examiner’s ruling to uphold them, Anderson said he also considered other “concerns about (Fortson’s) judgment” when deciding her employment fate. He elaborated such concerns included Fortson’s direct contradictions between previous statements she made about her actions and more recent testimony she gave during her appeal case in July.

“There were the original issues raised and also the concerns about judgment,” Anderson said.

Neither Fortson nor Steve Downing, her attorney, could be reached for immediate comment today.

The firing of Fortson, who helped launch the city’s Domestic Violence Program, has implications for the way services are handled for DV victims in a city deeply scarred by the issue. Since joining the city fulltime 12 years ago, Fortson has advocated for thousands of people seeking help from abuse.

The city, which works cooperatively with the YWCA-Pierce County and Crystal Judson Family Justice Center to provide victims advocacy services, will at least temporarily refer victims seeking help to the other agencies, Anderson said.

Fortson’s legal petition, filed in Pierce County Superior Court on Aug. 30, contends Hearing Examiner Rodney Kerslake‘s ruling to deny her appeal of the city’s ethics findings “was inappropriate and not based on law.”

Among other things, Fortson’s court petition describes the city’s investigation as flawed and claims Fortson was “denied fair and objective review” and “never notified of her right to an independent investigator.”

Fortson, 54, the city’s lone fulltime DV victims advocate since 1998, had remained in her $61,000 per year job while she appealed the city’s ethics findings about her actions in advocating for client Keisha Jackson.

Fortson worked as an advocate for the Puyallup woman after Jackson leveled abuse allegations in 2006 against her husband, Kelvin Jackson, during a tangled legal separation and custody dispute. Kelvin Jackson consistently has denied the allegations; a judge found that domestic violence did not apply in the civil case.

City investigator Tracy Storwick later found Fortson had violated the city’s ethics code by inappropriately using city funds in her position to rent a van for Keisha Jackson in 2007. Jackson used the van to flee the state with her kids for months, directly violating a judge’s order and her ex-husband’s child visitation rights. Keisha Jackson later was arrested in Florida and returned to Washington, where she ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor contempt of court charge.

During her appeals hearing in July, Fortson contradicted her previous statements, claiming she rented the van for Jackson not to go to Florida, but only for temporary local use. Despite a Budget-Rent-A-Car receipt that indicated the van was rented in SeaTac to be dropped off in Florida, Fortson and Keisha Jackson each testified that Jackson changed the rental paperwork over into her father’s name before taking it out-of-state.

Caling Fortson’s explanations “implausible,” Kerslake later upheld the city’s conclusions.

Reached by phone today, Kelvin Jackson said he was “very pleased” to hear Fortson had been fired.

“It’s about time,” said Jackson, who received $29,000 from the city to settle a claim he filed this year based on Fortson’s actions. “It was justified, but I think the city manager also needs to take the next step — to clean up that department and put some checks and balances in place.”

Whether the city will replace Fortson’s position remains unclear. Anderson said he will leave the decision to Merritt Long, the city’s interim director of the Department of Human Rights and Human Services. Recently tapped to replace longtime director John Briehl, who retires today after a 36 year career, Long has yet to officially begin work, Anderson said.

“He is probably not in a position to make that determination,” Anderson said. “He hasn’t even taken the reigns yet.”

Leave a comment Comments → 13
  1. surething says:

    NAACP will be commenting on this in tomorrows paper.

  2. mcraypo says:

    Oh joy, now it’s becoming yet another racial issue…..

    If folks could only follow the rules and do their job…

  3. eldipper says:

    We need to fire some DOT employees while we are at it.

  4. geeterpontiac says:

    It’s just another shakedown of the public by a person who didn’t do their job who hired an ambulance-chasing lawyer to make a few bucks off it.

  5. headedsouth says:

    Ratujack – Kerslake is an attorney you idiot. Would you also learn how to spell. China should pay back the money as well.

  6. Gaikokujin says:

    It only becomes a racial issue because that’s what some people can only try to use to justify their wrong behavior. She can’t/won’t admit that her actions were wrong so she fires back “racial discrimination” as have others caught breaking the law recently such as Rangel & Waters.

  7. tortoise says:

    She’s a busy girl. There is a $500k suit filed against the school district.

  8. RFTW001 says:

    Surrthing, Macrypo and others on the thread who has brought race into this, just made IT a race issue. Where is it in the article that China was suing due to a racial issue? I thought the contention surrounded around an allegation of Kerslake’s decision??? You see people like you want to play both sides of the fence. Instigate the racial issues, then if it is believed to be a racial issue, argue that folks abuse the claim. There is obvious some racial issues that still ensues in our society, and a responsible society-like I believe Pierce County as a whole is, would investigate to determine if any issues cloud the judgment of its elected officials.

  9. bbobtee27 says:

    No racial issue here! She is African American, as is the person she lied about helping plus the biggest witness against her and the person who most certainly will be hired to replace her is a lock to be an African American female Where is the race issue? She misappropriated funds, lied to cover it up, stepped way out of bounds in her duties, then lied some more to cover that up. She needed to terminated.

  10. ronniew says:

    I never read anything about race in the articles, just in the comments. Don’t cause trouble, folks.

  11. thats right Tacoma, Fire the bad ones, and the dead wood. Keep your
    nose out of Arizona….I’m still boycotting ya.

  12. Awesome decision! Following this story just made me shake my head! I have no doubt her intentions were pure when she started out. Just too much power to destroy others lives. I’m glad they terminated her. Dang, she couldn’t even remember which lie she had just told. LOL, she said one thing to the cops to try and get a restraining order one day against Kelvin Jackson during the hearings, then is on the stand the next sayiing the opposite. She got nailed lying repeatedly. Why she isn’t brought up on perjury charges is beyond me.

  13. AboutTIME! says:

    I srceamed she was a bad victim advocate in 1999 she goes beyond the scope of her job. And she HATES men! This woman should have been fired the city of tacoma and her co-workers knew what type of person she really was but kept thing hush hushed until this incident but please believe she has had a lot of complaints over the years that was simply ignored!

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