Barry Henderson and Johnny Moats are filing the action against Polk County, Sheriff Kelly McLendon, Chief Deputy Sheriff Shayne Garrison, Deputy Sheriff James Little and County attorney Brad McFall.
“We are trying to get redress for two good deputies who were removed from their duties for illegal reasons, which is depriving Polk County of the honest service to which the citizens are entitled,” said attorney Cathy Alterman, of Alterman and Associates of Marietta, representing the two men in the lawsuit.
The men and their attorney arrived at the U.S. District Court in Rome mid-morning with family, friends, Alterman’s paralegal and security personnel.
The two men claim in their suit those involved in their firings not only terminated their employment without cause, but also falsified facts regarding the alleged reasons.
Neither was given proper hearings regarding their terminations and separation notices did not contain specific incidents, according to the suit.
The lawsuit alleges no evidence was ever brought forward to prove any allegations made against the two men and that guidelines in the Standard Operating Manual for sheriff’s department employees were ignored.
It also alleges that those in charge had a history of bad conduct, planted evidence, and invaded privacy not only of the deputies involved but the general public as well.
“We’re putting the sheriff’s department on notice that their job is to protect the citizens of Polk County, not to use threats and deception to protect the indiscretions of its employees,” Alterman said.
“We’re trying to shed some light on some things that are being swept under the rug.”
The lawsuit points to “significant and pervasive sexual indiscretions between personnel at the Sheriff’s office” as a root cause of problems there.
These indiscretions “has long been tolerated” by the sheriff and “has created an atmosphere where deception, cover up and false accusations against those personnel who will not partake in, or condone such actions is commonplace,” according to the lawsuit.
McLendon, contacted Friday afternoon, said he had no comment.
Alterman said there is probably more to this case than what they have uncovered so far.
“We don’t know how bad it is. We do believe it’s the tip of the iceberg out there,” she said.
Specifically, two allegations were made against Henderson. The first was that he worked a private event as security without clocking out from his job as a sheriff’s deputy.
Henderson, a 12-year law enforcement veteran hired by Polk County in 2006 and fired last December, said in the suit he had requested to use vacation time for that night in September, 2009, in order to privately work a two-hour wrestling match.
Garrison refused to give him vacation time, but told Henderson to remain on the clock, according to the suit. Garrison didn’t reveal that fact, even though the suit states he was there when Henderson was terminated.
The suit alleged that Garrison had other employees clock him in on weekends while he was at home during previous employment with the sheriff’s office. He had been asked to resign in 2007, but was rehired by McLendon in 2009.
The lawsuit said Henderson was initially disciplined and demoted for working the wrestling match and was read his Garrity Rights, which allows for a law enforcement officer to discuss details of an event without facing prosecution, regarding the incident.
However, the suit states that McLendon afterward brought in a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agent in an attempt to arrest Henderson for theft of public funds in the incident, which violated his Garrity Rights.
The other allegation was that McLendon accused Henderson of sexually harassing another employee, Melissa Martin.
According to the lawsuit, Martin had been in an extramarital affair with Deputy Scott Chandler. Her husband wanted Henderson to help him stalk her, and Henderson refused, the suit states.
Henderson said in the suit the harassment allegations came shortly afterward, along with his termination.
Martin has never filed a sexual harassment complaint against Henderson with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to the suit.
There were two hearings on Henderson’s firing, but the lawsuit said no evidence was presented at either and Henderson was not allowed access to witnesses and accusers.
McFall refused to make any witnesses available and refused to participate in the second hearing, according to the lawsuit.
Moats, hired as a deputy in 2000, originally had been placed on leave and separation without cause Aug. 19 and was officially fired Sept. 2, according to legal papers.
His separation notice gave “numerous policy violations” as a reason for his termination, but the suit said it didn’t list details.
Legal papers said Moats was accused of stealing a GPS device from the sheriff’s office.
The suit states the device had been placed illegally on a sheriff’s car assigned to Moats and then on another patrol car of Moats.
According to legal documents, Moats believes Little, Garrison, and possibly other sheriff’s office employees illegally placed the device on Moats’ patrol vehicle without his knowledge.
Garrison then called the GBI and accused Moats of stealing the device.
The device was returned to Garrison after Moats downloaded its contents and photographed it, the suit said.
Moats said in the suit that Little also illegally obtained IP addresses for all of those who use a public chat board to discuss Polk County issues.
The suit states Little obtained an illegal and invalid subpoena around Sept. 7 and that Magistrate Judge Jean Crane signed it without cause.
The subpoena allowed the sheriff’s office to find out exactly who was commenting on the public chat board regarding the sheriff’s office by allowing identification of all IP addresses of anyone using the board.
The two men stated in the suit they want to recover money for their civil rights being violated, lost wages, punitive damages, reasonable attorney fees and that the case be tried before a jury.
Henderson said events leading up to his termination and those occurring since then have left him emotionally upset.
“Essentially it just tore me apart,” he said.
He remains unemployed, although Alterman said she was able to successfully appeal the decision to deny unemployment benefits.
Moats still hasn’t received unemployment benefits since his firing last month. His benefits were also denied and Alterman plans to appeal his case as well.
“It’s hard to find a job right now, especially when you have allegations against you that aren’t true,” Moats said.
“The thing for me is I had all this health insurance for me and my kids and now we don’t have that.”