CHARLESTON – Nearly $100,000, a promotion and a new car were part of the terms in settling two civil rights lawsuits against the Summers County Sheriff’s Department.
Following announcement a tentative settlement reached on Oct. 24 in John K. Farmer’s employment discrimination suit against the Department, The West Virginia Record sent a Freedom of Information Act to then-Sheriff Edward F. Dolphin, who was named as co-defendant in the suit, for the terms. The request also asked for the terms reached in June in the lawsuit Kelly Richmond filed against the Department, Dolphin and deputies James Chellis and Thomas J. Cochran for false arrest.
In his suit, Farmer alleged Dolphin, after he became sheriff in 2009, first demoted him back to deputy from the chief deputy’s position, then fired him. After he was rehired then fired and rehired a second time, Farmer alleges Dolphin restricted him to baliff duties, made him work out of the tax office and promoted another deputy with less seniority to corporal.
In her suit, Richmond alleged Dolphin, Chellis, who Dolphin appointed to replace Farmer as chief deputy, and Cochran unlawfully arrested her on Oct. 26, 2009, on charges of brandishing a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. 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.
Both suits were filed in 2010.
In response to The Record’s FOIA request, George Joseph, the attorney retained by the county’s insurance carrier, WVCorp Claims, provided a written summary of the two settlements.
In his suit, WVCorp Claims agreed to pay Farmer, and his wife Janeen, who was a co-plaintiff in the suit, $32,000. Also, Dolphin agreed to promote Farmer back to chief deputy and provide him “a vehicle upgrade when new vehicles are purchased.”
In her suit, WVCorp Claims agreed to pay Richmond, and her husband, James, $65,000.
The county made no admission of liability in either suit. Also, WVCorp Claims paid the law firm of Bailey and Wyant a total of $108,286.13 for their legal work.
A third civil rights lawsuit filed in 2010 against the Department also came to a conclusion this year. On April 11, a jury sided with Cheryl Bratcher, a former office deputy, that Chellis created a hostile work environment 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. The case remains on the docket pending a ruling by Judge Irene C. Berger on Bratcher’s motion she be awarded $62,292.44 for her legal fees, and expenses incurred in suit.
In November’s general election, Gary Wheeler, a Democrat, staged a successful comeback in defeating Dolphin, a Republican who upended Wheeler’s re-election bid four years ago.