The last of five labor-related lawsuits filed against the city of Mascotte by employees in the past couple of years was settled recently with the outcome that former police sergeant David Grice was seeking.

The settlement was reached on Oct. 26 at the conclusion of a three-day trial at the Lake County Courthouse, right before the jury came back with a verdict. 

“There was no real concrete offer until after we made our closing arguments and the jury was deliberating,” said Derek Schroth, Grice’s attorney with Bowen & Schroth out of Eustis.

The settlement, offered by Mascotte’s lawyers from the Florida League of Cities on behalf of Mascotte City Manager Jim Gleason and former Police Chief Ronaldo Banasco, included a total payout of $250,000 for Grice and his attorneys, full reinstatement for Grice and his full rate of pay from his January 2014 termination with three pay raises, equal to about 10 percent, that general officers have received.

Schroth said that upon his return to duty on Dec. 1, Grice will be earning $42,000 annually, plus approximately $10,000 in health insurance. 

The settlement includes reinstatement of other benefits, including a take-home vehicle with transponder, and that any internal affairs investigations be dismissed as unfounded.

“It’s everything we sought,” Schroth said.

Grice’s lawsuit, filed in April 2014, alleged that city officials made false accusations against him in retaliation for complaints he made about Banasco, including the alleged bugging of police cars.

Grice was also secretly videotaped, harassed, humiliated and mistreated, according to the lawsuit.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association also filed a suit alleging that Grice’s Officers’ Bill of Rights was violated as a result of the way the firing process was carried out.

After the settlement was accepted by all parties and before dismissing the case, the judge allowed the jury to reveal their verdict. It was in favor of Mascotte and if not for the settlement, Grice would have received nothing.

Gleason said that he and the city’s lawyers, at lunch, decided to settle because of the likelihood of an appeal and another looming lawsuit.

“We found out the jury reached a verdict saying that Mr. Grice was not retaliated against but the insurance company wanted to settle. They weren’t as concerned about the case on trial, but they were concerned about a potential age discrimination suit,” Gleason said. “This could have dragged on for another 18 months to two years and based on what I heard about in depositions and conduct uncovered, the likelihood of us prevailing in an age discrimination case was highly unlikely.”

Gleason said the gamble was not worth taking.

“This was an opportunity to end every issue they had in one settlement and it worked out to be beneficial for Grice and beneficial for the city,” Gleason said. “I have no animosity toward Grice and I'm happy for him. There were no bad reports about him before all this and we can put it behind us.”

Grice also spoke about his feelings.

"I have so many people to thank," Grice said. "But I also think there was some spiritual intervention because everything just fell into place. This was just too big of an event that I didn’t have the energy, money, time or rhetoric for. God was in it all the way around and I think others felt it too."

He also said that when he was leaving the courtroom, a couple of jurors approached him. One was crying and they said that they wanted to rule in his favor, but could not because of the judge’s orders on how to conclude their decision.

Grice said Gleason’s demeanor and attitude during the trial was positive and with Banasco out of the picture, he is confident and excited about returning to work. He'd been working in security and already put in his notice.

Gleason said he does not foresee future problems, but does expect higher insurance premiums because of the lawsuits. He said things have been calmer since Banasco’s departure.

Still, Grice said he knows he will have to get to know the new chief, reacquaint himself with the department and get caught up on training before getting back out on patrol.

“Going back to work is not going to be hard for me, because the person who was the cause of all this is gone. I think most people now realize the magnitude of what he was doing,” Grice said. “I think we can all call it a bad time in the city and move on.”