Former Deputy Files Suit Against Wood County Sheriff's Department
By Kiki Bettis Democrat Editor
May 21, 2012 at 10:35 a.m.
A former deputy with the Wood County Sheriff's Department has filed a wrongful termination suit, claiming she was deprived of her civil rights.
Samantha Sellers filed the wrongful termination suit last Thursday, May 16, in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas in Marshall. The lawsuit names not only the county, but also Sheriff Bill Wansley, Chief Deputy Wes Criddle and Lieutenant Jerry Blaylock.
On Monday afternoon, the Democrat spoke with Wood County District Attorney Jim Wheeler who declined to comment on the matter as he no longer represents the county. However he did say that "the county has retained outside counsel in the matter" and that he "was not at liberty to discuss any pending ligation."
Also, despite multiple phone and email attempts, Sheriff Wansley, Chief Deputy Criddle and Lt. Blaylock could not be reached for comment. Wood County Judge Bryan Jeanes is out of town and was not available for comment.
Her lawsuit, filed by Gilmer attorney Jarom Tefteller, claims Sellers' dismissal was a retaliatory discharge for "whistle blowing" and in violation of the county policy.
Sellers is asking for back pay compensations, unpaid entitlements, benefits, plus pre-judgment and post judgment interest, attorney's fees and also "demands" a trial by jury before Judge Roy S. Payne.
Sheriff Wansley hired Sellers as a deputy on August 3, 2009. The clash with authorities, according to court records, began when Sellers reported several incidents involving male deputies and supervisors committing acts of violence, alcoholism, and malfeasance while in uniform and using county property, both on and off duty.
The lawsuit states the first incident occurred in January 2010 when a fellow male deputy showed up at Sellers' home unannounced with his under aged son driving his vehicle. The suit states deputy was heavily intoxicated; both were off-duty at the time of the incident. After a short conversation, Sellers' suit states that she told the deputy that he needed to leave and offered to drive him and his son home, however, the he refused and quickly left with his son still driving. The next morning Sellers stated she reported the incident to her supervisor, although nothing was done.
The suit states another incident occurred in March 2010 at an off-duty social gathering at her supervisor's home. She states the supervisor got very drunk and became hostile and made physical advances toward her. Sellers' suit continues that the supervisor's wife called her the next morning and told her that her husband had beaten her and "shot up his own home" and ran off into the woods drunk. Sellers states in her suit that she advised the wife to report it but did not.
The lawsuit states that in May 2010 that the same male deputy again showed up at Sellers home unannounced and drunk with a female passenger. Sellers took his keys and gave them to the female passenger, who was sober, and they drove off. The next day, another fellow deputy who was on duty that evening told Sellers that the male deputy was picked up by the Mineola Police Department for driving drunk around Wal-Mart and causing a public scene. Sellers reported the incident to both of her supervisors, however, neither initiated disciplinary action. At that time, the deputy was given a three-day suspension, which he never served, even after Sellers also reported the incident to her supervisor.
Sellers' lawsuit states several other serious incidents of drunken and physical abuse and harassment. One of the coworkers was given a 15-day suspension and the other one quit and "was given an honorable discharge."
According to the lawsuit, on September 21, 2010, Sellers was called into Sheriff Wansley's office and was informed that she was the subject of an internal investigation by Lieutenant Jerry Blaylock for violating an un-named section of the policy for not reporting the incident in which the coworker shot up his home to the Texas Department of Child Protective Services and not reporting it sooner. Sellers was informed that she would be suspended for 30 days, and that was signed by Sheriff Wansley. However Chief Deputy Criddle told her he would tell her when she would serve her suspension since they were low on man-power at the time and by late March 2011 she had only served half of her suspension. Sellers was asked to sign an extension of her suspension.
Subsequently Sellers filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner, Dallas Division against the Wood County Sheriff's Department alleging she was suspended for matters that her fellow male coworkers were not.
Sellers filed a grievance with the county, which was denied on all levels.
The lawsuit states the plaintiff was deprived of her rights and liberty interest without affording her due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and other provisions of federal law.
Sellers was terminated from her position as a deputy, on February 15, 2012.
The lawsuit states that Wansley, Criddle and Blaylock are all liable because all of them acted, both individually and in concert.
The lawsuit states the county is also liable for the sheriff's actions and for allowing the sheriff to terminate employees without due process of law.