Deputy Files Lawsuit, Alleges Discrimination at Sheriff’s Office
POMEROY, Ohio – Following issues and allegations that have been arising in the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office involving Deputy Curtis Dion Jones, Jones has filed a law suit.
Jones (the plantiff) with counsel, Joshua Price, has filed a suit in the Meigs County Court of Common Pleas against the Meigs County Board of Commissioners, Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Keith Wood, and Major Scott Trussell (defendants). Meigs County Court of Common Pleas Judge Linda Warner has recused herself from the case and retired Judge D. Dean Evans of Gallia County will preside over the matter. While Jones has filed this suit, the defendants listed have not yet filed a response. This is the first step in the litigation and a response is expected at some point.
In plantiff court documentation from the law suit, it states that Jones is a disabled veteran with a back injury which “limited his ability to function in the United States military qualifying him as disabled.” It goes on to state that Jones also “has a disabling impairment through a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder.” According to Jones side of the law suit, he is “fully competent and qualified for the position of Deputy” through Meigs County generally and the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office. The suit maintains that Jones was discriminated against based on his disabilities. The case consists of two main counts, one of disability discrimination and the second of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Jones accuses Meigs County and employees including Sheriff Wood and Major Trussell of having engaged in an “ongoing pattern of disability discrimination” and that said defendants “initially thwarted, stalled, failed, and/or refused to properly investigate complaints lodged against Defendants Wood and Trussell based on complaints lodged by Jones.”
The plantiff maintains the infliction of emotional distress to due to the alleged discrimination and that, “Defendants’ conduct was so extreme and outrageous as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and was such that it can be considered completely intolerable in a civilized society.”
Jones seeks monetary compensation for each of the counts, punitive damages plus attorney’s fees. He also is seeking an order to stop alleged discrimination.
The complaints from Jones have been ongoing according to court documentation. One incident involved him being forced in for work after coming off of a shift on April 11, 2019. He states that he had taken medication and was not fit to report for duty. According to Jones, Major Trussell ordered him to return to work anyway. Jones filed a grievance internally on the matter. Meigs County deputies are represented by the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. The grievance Jones filed internally was on their form and union representation was also listed on the form. His grievance was denied by Sheriff Wood. According to the denial obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request from the Meigs Independent Press of the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, “Sergeant Jones was ordered to return to work because he had recently come off his shift. Article 4 Management Rights, Section 4.1, Paragraph I, provides the Sheriff’s Office the authority to implement necessary actions in emergency situations. Because staffing levels required that another member be ordered to work, Major Trussell ordered Sergeant Jones to return to work. Sergeant Jones had most recently come off his shift. Also, as Sergeant Jones worked the overtime, Section 16.6 was not violated because he was provided the opportunity to work the overtime. Additionally, Article 17, Report-in and Call-In Work, provides the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office to be called-in to work.”
The plantiff maintains that with this incident, he notified the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office that he had taken medication. According to the grievance denial, “Although having the opportunity, Sergeant Jones never notified Major Trussell that he was not physically or mentally fit for duty, despite having the ability to do so. A failure to notify the Major would be in voilation of policy.”
That particular incident led to further investigation of the matter. According to documentation obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request from the Meigs Independent Press, Sheriff Wood became aware of the possible policy violation from the April 11 incident through the grievance filed on April 17, 2019. This led to Sheriff Wood requesting through the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association an administrative investigation. The investigation was conducted by Washington County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Carey Rist and Captain Brian Rhodes. According to that report, “During the interview with Sergeant Jones, he admitted to not providing a list of prescribed medication to this employer. Sergeant Jones stated a few times during the interview that he felt he was not required to due to HIPPA. Additionally, during the interview he admitted the medication he took on April 11, 2019, caused him to be physically or mentally impaired while working the forced overtime.” According to those statements from the report that due to Jones’ admission of being physically or mentally impaired while on duty he was in voilation of policy for Reporting for Duty. Jones was not disciplined in the matter, but instructed to inform of medications he is taking.
Another incident included in the lawsuit involves July 4, 2020. Jones alleges that Sheriff Wood “made hostile and intimidating hand gestures at Jones and his wife during a Fourth of July parade.” That matter was previously investigated as well. Jones brought the issue to the Meigs County Commissioners seeking an independent investigation. The Meigs County Commissioners retained Stan Molnar to investigate the matter. Molnar’s report stated that Sergeant Jones’ complaint alleges that during the parade in Racine, Ohio Jones maintains that he and his wife attended the parade in which his wife was wearing a t-shirt with Sheriff Wood’s opponent in the election, Mony Wood on it. According to Molnar’s report, “He (Jones) continued that as the sheriff drove past, he pointed his finger out of the cruiser and made a statement directed to he and his wife. Jones concluded that the statement was ‘You need to get one of those shirts too.’ Sergeant Jones became very upset and a short time later left the area.”
Jones maintained to Molnar that this was a “continuation of the hostile treatment he has received from the sheriff for the last few years. He continued that he is constantly worried that the Sheriff and Major Trussell are out to get him.”
Molnar Report & Findings
Molnar interviewed Jones, Jones’ wife, three unnamed deputies, two witnesses from the parade, Major Trussell, Sheriff Wood, Union officials, Union attorney, and administration officials from neighboring Sheriff’s Office.
Other Incidents From Molnar Report Involving Jones:
- Molnar reported on the previously mentioned medication and forced in matter. He also outlined several others going back to 2016 in which Jones was given a detail to pick up donated items by a dispatcher. “Deputy Jones, upon returning to the Sheriff’s Department made a threatening statement to the dispatcher. Deputy Jones was given a written reprimand for the infraction. Deputy Jones readily acknowledged his wrongdoing for the incident.”
- Another incident was dismissed involving February 6, 2017 Jones and a Racine Police Officer of a negative off-duty interaction. Jones denied the allegations.
- According to the report, on April 12, 2017 Jones became involved in an information blast with the Sheriff’s secretary. Jones questioned the directive and was given a written reprimand by Sheriff Wood.
- On August 18, 2017 Deputy Sergeant Jones was given corrective counseling “for failure to ensure another deputy’s vehicle treacherous was working properly and the cruise was dirty.”
- The report noted March 27, 2018 that Jones was disciplined for “sending a co-worker an offensive text.” Jones was suspended three days without pay. When questioned on this by Molnar, when asked about the incident Jones explained, “he was off duty and preparing for open heart surgery when another deputy put a subpoena in his mailbox.”
- In March 2019 Jones was investigated internally for a possible improper interaction with a jail inmate, but it was found to not violate any policies.
- August 22, 2017 there was a reported incident with the Middleport Police Department that Jones allegedly did not assist another police department. He was disciplined by being provided a copy of the department policy titled “Cooperation with fellow employees and Agencies.” The report says Jones maintains he was not called to the scene to help and when he arrives his assistance was not needed and he went on to help another officer.
The Molnar report states, “With the exception of the dispatcher incident, for which Deputy Jones readily admitted he was wrong, the remainder of the incidents are minor in nature. The medication incident in my opinion was completely devastating to Sergeant Jones as the investigators served him the papers and then removed all of his Sheriff’s Office equipment. The event was not only frightening but probably demoralizing to the deputy and I do not feel that he has emotionally recovered from it. The other matters do show a pattern of A type personality, which a large percentage of officers possess and a modern, positive reinforcement counseling should have been undertaken.”
The Summary of the Molnar Report
Molnar’s complete summary of the investigation is as follows:
My task at the initiation of this inquiry was to investigate the claims of Deputy Sergeant Jones that the Sheriff made a hand gesture towards he and his wife during the Fourth of July Parade in Racine, Ohio. There in fact was an incident, Deputy Jones’ wife, Kimberly Jones was wearing the t-shirt of the Sheriff’s opponent, Mony Wood. The Sheriff did make a comment to Sergeant Jones suggesting that he should have one also. When questioned about the incident, Sheriff Wood admitted to making a gesture and statement, but added it was lighthearted and he meant no ill will towards Deputy Sergeant Jones. Jones, as previously stated was very upset and subsequently filed a complaint. The issue here is not about the complainant’s wife wearing a t-shirt. Deputy Sergeant Jones feels that the has been singled out for a long time and suggest that the Sheriff and Major Trussell are out to get him fired. A review of the disciplinary file for Deputy Sergeant Jones establishes a pattern of minor incidents which could have been handled differently thereby eliminating this rift. Deputy Sergeant Jones receives treatment from the Veterans Administration as he suffers from PTSD. He is prescribed medication for this condition which caused the biggest problem for the Sheriff’s Office. The event was mishandled by the Administration due to them not having the resources to handle such a delicate situation. If in fact, the Sheriff’s Office had an Employee’s Assistance Program, whereby Deputy Sergeant Jones could have received counseling for his sleep issues, I would suggest that this matter would have never happened. The matter was exacerbated by a full-fledged investigation being conducted on him, issued equipment removed and placed on administrative leave. The incidents with Jones sending a text to a co-worker and cursing a dispatcher are described as anger issues that should have been handled with counseling. The Sheriff’s office does not presently have a program in place to assist an officer with work issues and negative re-enforcement is the only means to deal with a problem. Counseling received from a superior with whom the employee feels uncomfortable is certainly not effective and probably enhances the tensions/anxiety. Most departments will send an officer to counseling sessions regarding with too many negative interactions with citizens. Presently Sergeant Jones avoids the Sheriff’s Office as to avoid any potential problems between himself and the Administration. As a Sergeant/Supervisor, I would involved Sgt. Jones with additional supervisory duties, as well as the other sergeants, that would force additional positive interaction. None of the Sergeants perform formal briefings with their subordinates, and it appears the Sergeants/Deputies go in different directions and may not interact throughout the shift. Additionally, I learned from both sides that Sergeant Jones conducts his patrols in the Racine area for most of his shifts. Although this allows Sergeant Jones to service those citizens, it does not allow Sergeant Jones to effectively supervise his subordinates and meet people in other areas. In review of the interviews I have conducted, it is obvious both sides of this dispute carry their share of the blame. Sheriff Wood has handled the issues with Sergeant Jones to the best of his ability and with the resources he has. Sergeant Jones has let his frustrations get the best of him and has made a few mistakes of his own. Further review of the discipline file reveals that on the occasions where Sgt. Jones was disciplined, same was reduced by the Sheriff. There is definitely a personality conflict between Sgt. Jones and Major Trussell, which I believe caused minor issue turning into a larger issue with the Sheriff’s secretary. Administrative directives should come from the desk of the Sheriff or Major, even though same is prepared by civilian staff. The directive would have been approved and issued from the Major. Many of the deputies resent the fact that the secretary is paid more than a deputy is.”
Molnar Recommendations & Conclusion
Molnar made several recommendations in his report:
- Provide an Employees Assistance Program
- Conduct periodic employee evaluations highlighting strengths and weaknesses while providing support in different areas and commend through documentation those areas where an employee has done well.
- Provide Supervisory training for all Sergeants and those promoted to sergeant or above which include leadership classes. It also recommends Sergeants have additional responsibilities and duties.
- Intereact with other Sheriffs in the area and put together if necessary advanced schools for deputies and bring to Meigs County additional expertise. That includes speakers and trainings.
At the end of it, Molnar mainly recommended a mediation session which is primarily a suggestion. The possibility of litigation was also foreshadowed. The following is the entirety of the Molnar Report Conclusion:
It is my suggestion that the Sheriff and Deputy Sergeant Jones sit down for a mediation session. If this mediation is not initiated soon, the situation will worsen, possibly creating litigation which is not in the best interest of any of the parties involved. A disjointed and fractured working environment currently exists at the Sheriff’s Office. Both men are fine officers and want the best for the Sheriff’s Office and fellow officers. This is a situation that got out of control a few years ago and has not been effectively dealt with. The Sheriff’s Office does not possess the tools necessary to correct the problem and Sergeant Jones did not receive the assistance that he needed. What resulted was a division which grew worse by the day to what we have today. It would be unrealistic to think that everyone within a department would be best friends and in total agreement on all issues. However, there is a common goal within the Sheriff’s Office which is being hampered with the current state of work environment. There is a faction that fully supports the Sheriff and a faction that feels that he is out to get Sergeant Jones. Communication is the only way this will ever be repaired, whether for this Sheriff or the next Sheriff be it ten years from now. The Sheriff needs to bring his officers together, discuss issues which are important to them as well as issues which are important to the Sheriff’s Office as a whole. The present system of burdening Major Trussell with interacting with different shifts and sharing information with other deputies is problematic in that when he is unavailable, there is no system in place to perform that duty. I would suggest improved communication/interaction between the Sheriff’s Office, Office of the Commissioners and the Clerk of Courts with all matters pertaining to the Sheriff’s Office.
It is unclear if mediation was attempted or not, but not long after the Molnar report was made, Jones filed the lawsuit.
The litigation of the lawsuit will continue to be reported by the Meigs Independent Press as more information becomes available.