Third civil rights suit against Summers sheriff settled

By Lawrence Smith | Nov 1, 2012

BECKLEY – The third of three civil rights suits filed against the Summers County sheriff in 2010 has come to a close.

U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger on Oct. 24 dismissed an employment discrimination suit Deputy John K. Farmer filed against Sheriff Edward F. Dolphin after the sides announced they reached a settlement through mediation. The agreement included a confidentiality clause that prohibited disclosure of the terms.

“We made the amount confidential, and I can’t disclose it,” said Anthony R. Veneri, Farmer’s attorney. “I want to say there are some terms, but I don’t even know if I can disclose that.”

According to the suit, Farmer was promoted to chief deputy during former Sheriff Gary Wheeler’s administration. In the 2008 general election, Dolphin defeated Wheeler.

On an unspecified date in April 2009, Dolphin not only demoted Farmer, but also fired him. The firing, Farmer claims, was in violation of the state Deputy Sheriff’s Civil Service law.

According to the suit, after filing a grievance with the county Deputy Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission, Farmer was rehired as a deputy later that month.

However, Farmer alleged Dolphin then retaliated against him by concocting ways to justify firing him. That included failing to respond to calls, properly securing evidence and taking extended breaks and lunches at Pipestem State Park.

According to the suit, Dolphin, on an unspecified date in November 2009, fired Farmer. Again, after he filed a grievance, the civil service commission determined Farmer was fired without just cause.

In addition to reinstatement as a deputy sheriff, the commission awarded Farmer back pay, and some of his attorneys fees.

However, Farmer alleged Dolphin continued to retaliate against him. Following his second reinstatement, Farmer said Dolphin not only restricted him to perform bailiff duties in circuit and family court, which included making him work out of the tax office and away from the other deputies, but also promoted another deputy with less seniority to corporal.

In his suit, Farmer alleged Dolphin’s actions caused him, among other things, medical expenses, humiliation, embarrassment, mental distress, or severe emotional distress. Along with ones for civil rights violations, Farmer made claims against Dolphin for wrongful discharge, retaliatory discharge and retaliation, outrageous conduct and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Also, Farmer’s wife, Janeen, was a co-plaintiff in the suit, and made a claim for loss of consortium.

Other suits reach conclusion

Earlier this year, two other civil rights suits against Dolphin concluded including one filed by another deputy who alleged she was sexually harassed by Farmer’s replacement as chief deputy.

On April 11, a jury sided with Cheryl Bratcher that James Chellis created a hostile work environment in the Sheriff’s Office after making crude comments about her, and, on one occasion, shocking her with a stun gun. In addition to $500 in compensatory damages, the jury awarded her $12,500 in punitive damages.

Of that amount, Chellis was to pay $10,000 and Dolphin the remainder. Though the jury did determine Dolphin was either “deliberate indifferent” toward or “tacitly authorized” Chellis’ conduct, it did not find any merit to Bratcher’s claims he discriminated against her when he denied her a five percent pay raise.

According to her suit, Bratcher was hired in 2008 by Wheeler as an office deputy. Her duties included supervising and detaining prisoners and conducting searches of female prisoners before placing them in holding cells.

The case remains on the docket pending a ruling on Bratcher’s motion she be awarded $62,292.44 for her legal fees, and expenses incurred in suit. Berger, who was also assigned the case, has yet to rule on it.

In June, Dolphin, along with Chellis and Deputy Thomas J. Cochran agreed to settle a suit Kelly E. Richmond, and her husband, James, filed against them for false arrest. In her suit filed Oct. 22, 2010, Richmond alleged nearly a year earlier, despite lacking probable cause, they arrested, and charged her with one count each of brandishing a deadly weapon, and disorderly conduct.

According to her suit, the trio arrested her on Oct. 26, 2009, and transported her to the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver where she stayed the night.

The next day a magistrate refused to issue a warrant for her arrest finding the .177 pellet rifle she allegedly brandished is not classified as a deadly weapon, and the facts of the disorderly conduct charge they wrote on the criminal complaint did not justify the charge.

Tuesday’s election features a rematch between Dolphin, a Republican, and Wheeler, a Democrat.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case numbers 10-cv-1100 (Bratcher), 1111 (Farmer), 1247(Richmond)

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