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Former Wood County deputy files suit against department

By Kiki Bettis
May 23, 2012 at 11 p.m.

QUITMAN - A former deputy with the Wood County Sheriff's Department has filed a wrongful termination suit in federal court, saying she was terminated in retaliation for raising questions about improper activity within the department.

Samantha Sellers filed the suit this past Thursday in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas in Marshall. The lawsuit names the county, Sheriff Bill Wansley, Chief Deputy Wes Criddle and Lt. Jerry Blaylock.

Wansley, who is running for re-election in Tuesday's election, did not respond to numerous requests for comment. Neither did Blaylock.

Criddle said via email he had not been served with notice of the lawsuit.

"We have received an EEOC charge," he said, "which our attorneys are addressing."

Wood County District Attorney Jim Wheeler said the county has retained outside counsel in the matter, and that he was not at liberty to discuss pending litigation.

The lawsuit, which was filed by Gilmer attorney Jarom Tefteller, says Seller's dismissal from the department was in retaliation for whistle blowing, and was in violation of county policy.

She is asking for back pay, unpaid entitlements, benefits and attorney's fees. Sellers is seeking a trial by jury.

Wansley hired Sellers as a deputy on Aug. 3, 2009. The trouble began, according to the filing, when Sellers reported several incidents involving male deputies and supervisors committing acts of violence, alcoholism, and malfeasance while in uniform and using county property on and off duty.

The suit outlines incidents beginning in January 2010 including drunken driving, improper driving, physical abuse and harassment, which Sellers reported with no or little apparent repercussions for the offending deputies. One coworker, according to the lawsuit, was given a 15-day suspension and another quit and "was given an honorable discharge."

In September 2010, the lawsuit says, Sellers was informed by Wansley she was the subject of an internal investigation by Blaylock. The investigation was said to be for violating an unnamed section of the policy for not reporting to the Texas Department of Child Protective Services an incident regarding an off-duty gathering at the home of her supervisor. According to the suit, Sellers' supervisor was inebriated at the gathering and later became abusive to his spouse and shot up his own home.

Sellers was informed she would be suspended for 30 days, under an order signed by Wansley. However, the suit says, Criddle told her he would tell her when to serve the suspension because of staffing issues, and she had served only half of it by March 2011. Sellers was asked to sign an extension of her suspension.

Subsequently Sellers filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the sheriff's department alleging she was suspended for matters that her fellow male coworkers were not.

She also filed a grievance with the county, which was denied.

Sellers was terminated from her position as a deputy on Feb. 15, an act her suit says deprived her of her rights to due process.



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