A former Chanhassen city employee is suing the city, saying he was unjustly accused of stealing water from the west metro suburb in a dispute involving a water meter.
Cori Wallis, 39, and his wife, Jaime, filed the lawsuit claiming defamation and malicious prosecution against the city and utility manager Kevin Crooks after the city pressed charges against Wallis, who worked for Chanhassen’s water utility and was also an assistant fire chief.
Wallis contends that testing and tampering with water meters at his home was part of his job. He and his wife are seeking monetary damages.
The city does not comment on pending litigation, City Manager Todd Gerhardt said in an e-mail.
According to the suit, filed Monday in Carver County District Court, for 11 years the city told Wallis to test and tamper with the water meter in his Chanhassen home to check them and to determine how someone could tamper with them.
On Sept. 23, the city reported Wallis to the Carver County Sheriff’s Office, alleging theft of $120 in water.
In the report, Crooks said that he gave Wallis a new meter to install at his home in July because Wallis was the only utility employee who lives in Chanhassen. After a few weeks, Wallis had not installed the new meter, according to the report. When Crooks checked the meter management software, he found a reverse flow for about 54 days before the new meter was placed on the property.
Crooks said he had Wallis’ meter tested and found that it was working properly, the sheriff’s office report said.
The city filed a criminal misdemeanor charge against Wallis, then dropped it. Wallis was placed on administrative leave and then resigned his position from utility operator. He was also stripped of his title of assistant fire chief, according to his lawsuit.
The suit says that the city asked Wallis to resign and that it did not contact him or investigate before claiming that he stole water services.
In the defamation claim against the city, the lawsuit cites an e-mail from the city to city employees stating that Wallis stole services.
The suit also accuses Crooks of “tortious interference” — interfering with Wallis’ job with Chanhassen with the intention of harming him.
Wallis’ attorney, Brandon Schwartz, said that he has worked to try to resolve the situation amicably with the city but that it gave Wallis no other option.
“What we think happened is that there was some manipulation by the city, specifically Kevin Crooks,” Schwartz said.
Wallis has requested a jury trial.
“If people put themselves in Cori’s shoes, they would be outraged by what happened,” Schwartz said.
Wallis now works in construction.