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Former Wood County female deputy files suit

By Kiki Bettis The Democrat Staff
May 22, 2012 at 6:27 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 Thursday, May 16, in U.S. District Court Eastern District of Texas in Marshall. The lawsuit names the county, Sheriff Bill Wansley, Chief Deputy Wes Criddle and Lieutenant Jerry Blaylock.

Wood County District Attorney Jim Wheeler was unaware of the lawsuit until asked about it, and said the DA's office no longer represents the county because their office works so closely with the sheriff's department however he did say "the county has retained outside council in this matter" and that he "is not at liberty to discuss pending ligations."

Wod County Judge Bryan Jeanes was out of town and could not be contacted. Attempts to contact Wansley, Criddle and Blaylock were unsuccessful. Late Monday evening after Democrat and Monitor press time, Criddle responded by email and stated that "We have not been served with any lawsuit from Samantha Sellers, however we have received an EEOC charge, which our attorneys are addressing."

Sellers' lawsuit, filed by Gilmer attorney Jarom Tefteller, claims Sellers' dismissal was a retaliatory discharge for "whistle blowing" and in violation of county policy.

Sellers is asking for back pay, 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.

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 male deputy showed up at Sellers' home unannounced with his under-aged son driving his vehicle. The suit states the deputy was very drunk; both were off-duty. After a short conversation, Sellers' suit states that she told the deputy 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 told the wife to report it, but she 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 lawsuit states, the deputy was given a three-day suspension, which he never served, even though Sellers also reported the incident to her supervisor.

Sellers' lawsuit states several other serious incidents of drunken and physical abuse and harassment occurred, which she reported. One of the coworkers was given a 15-day suspension and another one quit and "was given an honorable discharge."

According to the lawsuit, on September 21, 2010, Sellers was called into Wansley's office and was informed that she was the subject of an internal investigation by Lieutenant Jerry Blaylock. It was for violating an unnamed section of 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 the sheriff. However Chief Deputy Criddle told her he would tell her when she would serve her suspension since they were low on manpower 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 against the 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 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 Feb. 15, 2012.

The lawsuit states 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 because it allows a policy under which the sheriff can terminate employees without due process of law.



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