After meeting in executive session Tuesday, the Mexico Beach City Council settled a federal civil rights lawsuit that was the last of a series of lawsuits that have cost the city, or at least the city’s insurer, more than $300,000.

After meeting in executive session Tuesday, the Mexico Beach City Council settled a federal civil rights lawsuit that was the last of a series of lawsuits that have cost the city, or at least the city’s insurer, more than $300,000.

Michael Duhart, a former employee of the city’s police department, agreed to a mediated settlement of more than $87,000 to settle claims that he was discriminated on the basis of race.

The city admitted no wrongdoing and both parties are responsible for their attorney’s fees.

The settlement is the last debris from the fallout engulfing the city’s police department, and department of public safety, over the past six years, which has included two successive police chiefs resigning under duress from allegations of improper behavior.

After former chief Brad Hall left 2012 following an audit by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office found concerns with a series of operational issues, the department appeared to be rebounding.

But a string of lawsuits, the last from Duhart lawsuit, showed turmoil behind the scenes.

Those first lawsuits were brought by former officer Jesse Burkett and were followed by lawsuits from Hillary Patterson, Chaney McCardle and Karen Shipman, alleging violation of whisteblower statutes and sexual and gender discrimation.

And in addition to paying out several hundred thousand dollars, on cases the city’s lawyer characterized as “dangerous from a liability standpoint,” the result has also been the retirement of another former chief, Glenn Norris, as well as the separation from the department of his second in command, Timothy Hightower.

Hightower ran for Gulf County Sheriff last year, while on medical leave, according to the city, and as the initial lawsuits were in discovery and depositions.

Burkett in January of 2016 filed a lawsuit under the whistleblower protections.

He contended that Norris and Hightower, retaliated and discriminated against him after Burkett raised questions about the potentially unlawful actions of another officer.

Burkett contended Norris and Hightower sought to ruin his reputation with an internal “investigation” spanning months that stemmed from allegations brought by the officer whose actions Burkett questioned and ultimately went nowhere.

Burkett alleged the other officer also broke departmental policy, but that Norris did nothing save retaliate against Burkett.

Burkett contended Norris also objected when Burkett defended McCardle and Shipman after derogatory comments were made by Norris about their sexual orientation.

Ultimately, McCardle and Shipman filed claims for gender discrimination and discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

Patterson and Burkett filed complaints based on retaliation and Patterson also alleged gender discrimination.

The claims date to actions between 2012 and 2014.

Burkett, citing the medical impacts from the stressful work environment, resigned in 2015; he now works for the city of Port St. Joe.

Patterson resigned in 2014 after being threatened with termination and contended in her complaint that the harassment from Norris continued after she left the police department.

In fact, during the depositions and discovery period, there were a number of posts by some parties involved on social media that alluded to the ongoing lawsuit and included veiled threats.

All the lawsuits were allowed to move forward and were moved into federal court.

Duhart, in turn, filed a federal civil rights claim

In depositions, the plaintiffs described a hostile work environment in which some of the most common and vile epithets describing people of color as well as individual’s sexual orientation were freely used.

Also highlighted in the depositions is that complaints, to Norris and farther up the food chain, were not addressed.

City officials in depositions acknowledged Norris faced no discipline or warning concerning the complaints and there seemed, according to the depositions, to have been little investigation into the complaints.

Norris and Hightower denied the claims.

The Burkett and Patterson cases were due to enter the courtroom in January of this year.

In October of last year, after a negotiating session that the city’s attorney said nearly broke down, a settlement was reached on all claims from Burkett, Patterson, Shipman and McCardle.

The city agreed to pay out $220,000 to the four, with Burkett receiving $100,000, Patterson $50,000, McCardle $45,000 and Shipman $25,000.

Add in Duhart’s $87,500 and the total paid out to date is $307,500.

As in the Duhart settlement, the city acknowledged no wrongdoing and all parties were responsible for their legal fees.

According to the court reporter’s transcript of the executive session concerning a settlement of the lawsuits from Burkett, Patterson, Shipman and McCardle, the city’s attorney said,

“These claims I think were dangerous from a liability perspective… Had these cases proceeded to trial, based upon the testimony that came out in depositions of the various former city employees, I think there would have been tremendous exposure and not only larger judgments than these monetary amounts, but the Plaintift’s attorney fees which would have been, you know, probably more than this total figure.”

Former Mayor Tom Bailey expressed his frustration and desire to fix the problems in the department during the same executive session.

“This has been a long going thing that, I’m not happy that the situation either existed or that we in fact have liability in this area,” Bailey said. “This is something that we, as a city, have to fix.

“Going forward, we don’t need any more of these kind of things.”

The city’s police department has had a new chief since late last year when Norris resigned, citing a stressful work environment.