In a letter dated Aug. 3, Marietta attorney Lance LoRusso informs the city his client will seek an “immediate injunction” in Cherokee County Superior Court against the city, City Manager Scott Wood and Police Chief Robert Merchant.
Vande Zande had been given a choice to resign or have his employment terminated by Monday, but he was ultimately fired by Merchant, said City Attorney Bobby Dyer.
Dyer said the termination was done in person by Merchant and that Wood had no say in the status of Vande Zande’s employment.
“I don’t want to comment any further on that if there’s a threat of a lawsuit,” Dyer said.
LoRusso did not return calls for comment.
As of press time, no filing had been submitted to the Cherokee County Superior Court clerk’s office.
LoRusso in the letter on behalf of his client also asks the city to hand over laptops, computers, cellphones, emails and text messages pertaining to Vande Zande, Wood and Merchant.
Vande Zande has been mired in controversy since he was named interim police chief in January after the resignation of Jeff Lance.
According to the letter, the ultimatum given to Vande Zande stems from a request Wood asked the former assistant chief to perform. The letter alleges Wood asked Vande Zande, who was then acting as interim chief, to conduct a background check into a citizen “without a lawful reason to do so.”
It also references a traffic stop that put the city in the metro Atlanta news media spotlight.
Wood was pulled over by former Canton officer Daniel Henley on March 15 after leaving a City Council meeting.
The latter half of the video of Henley pulling over Wood following a four-hour meeting at City Hall contains no audio, which raised questions on whether the officer gave preferential treatment to Wood. Wood insisted he didn’t ask for preferential treatment, and Vande Zande told the Tribune that Henley didn’t follow proper protocol when he turned off the audio. He also defended Henley’s actions.
Henley later resigned his post with Canton, and also criticized Vande Zande as willing to do “anything” to be named the next police chief.
The letter also alleges Wood later “admonished” Vande Zande when he didn’t perform the background check and criticized the interim chief for not being loyal to him. Vande Zande, according to the letter, later informed Mayor Gene Hobgood and the Canton City Council of the conversation, and Wood was subsequently placed on probation.
He raised questions about the process of the police chief search after overhearing a conversation between Wood and Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison in which Vande Zande was a topic of discussion.
Wood had said it wasn’t unusual for city managers to reach out to other law enforcement officials to inquire about candidates for police chief positions.
Hobgood said he didn’t want to comment on the letter and the threat of litigation, but added the issue could be addressed during the council’s Aug. 16 meeting.
“It is a serious issue and it must be taken seriously,” he said, adding he thinks the circumstances surrounding the letter will come out “as time goes on.”