Ex-police chief plans $1M lawsuit against Tempe

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Former Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 file photo via Tempe Police Department) Former Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 file photo via Tempe Police Department)
Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir (Source: Tempe Police Department) Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir (Source: Tempe Police Department)

Retired Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff is demanding the City of Tempe pay him $1 million or face a lawsuit.

In a notice of claim letter, the first step required before suing a public entity, attorney Stephen Montoya laid out Ryff’s claim that the actions of his successor, Chief Sylvia Moir, constituted a breach of his retirement agreement that was drafted and signed by Tempe.

The background

Ryff spent more than 35 years with the Tempe Police Department, the last nine as chief. He retired on Dec. 1, 2015, but cut a deal with the city to stay on as a consultant. The move kept Ryff employed with the city to reach the 10-year mark in the Arizona State Retirement System and afford him a slight increase in his retirement pay. 

[RELATED: Tempe police chief on his way out, sends letter to employees (June 22, 2015)]

Ryff had already been receiving retirement pay from the Arizona Public Safety Retirement System. That began in 2006 when he retired from the department and was appointed chief. 

By the numbers: Ryff's retirement

  • Current monthly retirement income
    • Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (original retirement in 2006) - $6,805/month
    • Arizona State Retirement System - $2,636/month
    • Total/month: $9,441
  • Ending salary as chief: $181,324
  • Sick/Vacation/One year consulting pay: $184,935.96
  • Severance: $125,804.84

Sources: City of Tempe, Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, Arizona State Retirement System

Was non-disparagement clause violated?

There is a non-disparagement clause in Ryff’s retirement agreement which prohibits him or any Tempe employee or elected official from speaking ill of the other party.

The notice of claim letter accuses Moir, who took over as Tempe's chief in March 2016, of making statements that cost Ryff a job with the Tempe Union High School District.

According to Montoya, Ryff applied for and was offered the job of executive director of student affairs and district safety.

Dr. Kenneth Baca, the district superintendent, contacted Moir before officially hiring Ryff. According to Montoya, Moir indicated that her staff would be "uncomfortable” working with Ryff and if he were hired by the district, it would not be consistent with her desire to "move the organization forward.”

Montoya stated in the notice of claim that Moir’s remarks resulted in Baca rescinding his offer. The allegation is that Moir's comments cost Ryff a great job, which is a breach his retirement agreement

We asked if Moir, who has more than 26 years in law enforcement and most recently served as the chief in El Cerrito, CA, talked with Baca about Ryff.

[RELATED: Tempe appoints new police chief; first external pick since 1968 (Jan. 29, 2016)]

"Chief Moir regularly meets with Dr. Baca, as she does many other key stakeholders in our community," Sgt. Josie Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the Department, explained. "She has also met with Mr. Ryff over breakfast to discuss a smooth transition and the opportunity to build on previous successes in the police department." 

Tempe P.D. 'a bit surprised'

"We were a bit surprised with the allegations in the notice of claim, but are not at all concerned about how the facts will bear out," Montenegro said. "Chief Moir emphasizes that while this is a brief distraction, providing exceptional police services to include reducing harm and ensuring the safety and security of our community remains the focus of our men and women who safeguard Tempe."

Montenegro went on to say the Department anticipates being able to address the issue further in the future.

Calls and messages to Ryff for comment went unanswered but his lawyer said in a phone conversation that his client does not want to disparage the City of Tempe and will keep his comments confined to what is in the notice of claim.

[PDF: Notice of claim filed by Ryff's attorney]

[PDF: Ryff's retirement agreement as drafted and signed by the City of Tempe]

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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