Fired Jefferson Co. deputy files federal lawsuit

By Lawrence Smith | Oct 25, 2013

MARTINSBURG - A former Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy’s dispute with county officials is once again in court.

The Jefferson County Commission, the county’s civil service commission and former sheriffs Everett Boober and Robert Shirley are named as co-defendants in a civil rights suit filed by Michael T. Dodson.

In his suit filed Oct. 18 in U.S. District Court, Dodson, a former JCSD sergeant, alleges his rights to due process were violated in the manner in which he was disciplined and subsequently fired for having a romantic relationship with a fellow deputy.

Prior to the suit, both Dodson and Shirley filed appeals to the state Supreme Court contesting procedural aspects of the case, with the court granting each a victory.

Dodson’s suit provides no specifics as to why he was fired by Shirley on Jan. 6, 2009. However, filings made with the Supreme Court show it was a result of a steamy relationship he had with Cpl. Tracey Edwards, a JCSD detective.

According to court records, Dodson and Edwards’ relationship formally became known when he accused her of giving a suspect legal advice. On an unspecified day in June 2008, Edwards told the suspect his civil rights might have been violated following an unspecified incident on Allstadt Road in Harpers Ferry.

In the course of an internal investigation, Edwards admitted prior to Dodson’s allegation of unauthorized practice of law, the two had a sexual relationship. The investigation found that on several occasions between 2005 and 2007, Dodson and Edwards had sex in either her cruiser, her office or a park near the Sheriff’s Office while either or both was on duty.

After Boober informed him disciplinary action would be taken, Dodson requested a predisciplinary hearing. Records show it was scheduled for Nov. 5, 2008.

A month before, Boober asked that one of the panel members, Cpl. K. Boyce, be recused since he was the one who investigated Dodson’s allegation against Edwards. The day of the hearing, the panel granted Boober’s request and adjourned until the Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff’s Association decided to appoint a replacement.

Before that could happen, Shirley was elected sheriff. After taking office, Shirley fired Dodson.

Citing the lack of the pre-disciplinary hearing, Dodson appealed Shirley’s decision firing him, which was upheld by both the civil service commission and Judge David Sanders. However, on Sept. 23, 2011, the Supreme Court, citing its 2009 opinion in Burgess v. Moore, reversed Sanders’ decision, saying state law is clear that a pre-disciplinary hearing is a required step in any internal action taken against a deputy sheriff.

After the court remanded the case back to Sanders, it made a return trip to Charleston when Shirley appealed his attempt to block an injunction Dodson filed challenging the membership of the pre-disciplinary panel. In his injunction, Dodson alleged Shirley exerted “undue influence” over the DSA’s selection of a member, including “the involvement of [his] administrative assistant in counting the DSA’s voting ballots and because of the chief deputy’s involvement in the DSA’s vote.”

The court overruled Sanders and granted Shirley a writ of prohibition. In a opinion issued Oct. 19, 2012, the court said it found unpersuasive Dodson’s arguments the DSA’s selection of a panel member for his pre-disciplinary hearing was somehow tainted by Shirley.

After remanding the case back to Jefferson County, the court on Jan. 11 unanimously denied a motion Dodson filed to rehear the appeal. The decision came the same day Shirley resigned as sheriff as part of a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the indictment against him for violating the civil rights of a bank robbery suspect in the course of arresting him following a high-speed chase. Shirley was eventually sentenced to a year in prison.

In his suit, Dodson alleges his rights have been violated, beginning with Boober compelling him to take a polygraph examination when in the investigation first began and continuing until today by the failure of Peter Daugherty, the acting sheriff, to schedule a pre-disciplinary hearing since the court’s second remand.

Daugherty and John Griffith, the polygraph examiner, are also named co-defendants in the suit.

Also, along with denial of due process, Dodson alleges his right to equal protection of the law was violated by either Boober or Shirley failing to fire Edwards. Records show she was given a demotion and reduction in pay.

Along with unspecified damages, recovery of court costs and attorneys fees, Dodson seeks a order restoring him to his position as sergeant without any loss of pay or benefits. He is represented by Charleston attorneys Mark McMillian and Robert W. Schulenberg III.

The case is assigned to Judge John Preston Bailey.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number 13-cv-149

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