Navin Sharma, a Portlander who spotlighted allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation inside the Vancouver police department through a federal lawsuit, died peacefully of pancreatic cancer on Dec. 24, Sharma’s family confirmed to WW over the weekend.
Sharma, whose case against the Vancouver Police Department resulted in a$1.65 million settlement in September 2008, was 54.
Considered one of the largest single-plaintiff employment-related settlements in Washington state’s history, the settlement Sharma reached with the City of Vancouver in 2008 also allowed Sharma to retire “in good standing” with a “letter of gratitude” from a top city official.
The settlement grew out of two years of legal wrangling. The police department fired Sharma in 2006, ostensibly for making mistakes on DUII reports. But Sharma contended his firing was the result of racial discrimination and retaliation stemming from an incident in 1998. That’s when Sharma, then a relatively new cop after earlier careers as an emergency-room nurse and oil-industry worker, attended a domestic-violence prevention training program for police officers. Sharma later co-operated with an internal affairs investigation of unprofessional behavior at the training that resulted in disciplinary actions against two sergeants.
“For Sharma, the consequences were far graver,” WW wrote in a cover storyon Sharma’s case in July 2008. “Over the next eight years, Sharma was crucified for his testimony against his fellow officers in an apparent vendetta that would culminate in his firing in 2006 and his being branded the dirtiest cop Clark County had ever seen.”
Sharma’s health noticeably declined in 2010. Chemotherapy made him appear frail. But he remained committed to fighting injustice where he saw it.
After WW reported on a young Jefferson High School graduate and cellistwho went to jail for 18 months following a fight that left the victim with a one-inch knife wound, Sharma donated much of the money to pay for a new cello for the young man, Harun Mustafa. That was after the Oregon Department of Corrections bent its rules to allow Mustafa to have a cello in prison. Typically, the only instruments inmates are allowed to behind bars are guitars.
Sharma applauded the Oregon corrections department’s decision.
“He seems like a bright kid who deserves another chance,” Sharma wrote in an email to WW. “My gut tells me that he will do all of us proud some day!”
Plans for a celebration of Sharma’s life have not been finalized.