PARKERSBURG - Allegations that Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy fired a deputy in exchange for political support were made by a former deputy in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Wood County Circuit Court.
Former Deputy James Ray Asbury filed suit against Sandy individually and in his capacity as sheriff of Wood County. Sandy was defeated in the November election by former Sheriff Ken Merritt and will be leaving office Dec. 31.
In the lawsuit Asbury states during his employment he responded to several complaints by neighbors of Leanda Atkinson near Vienna concerning alleged abuse by her boyfriend Matthew Dickel. In the suit he states she refused to cooperate on several occasions and no charges of domestic violence or petitions were filed against Dickel until her death in May 2004. Thereafter the family complained of the alleged lack of action on the part of the sheriff's department in preventing her death, the lawsuit states.
When contacted Thursday, Sandy said he was not aware of the lawsuit and had no comment.
In the suit it is stated that during the 2008 election campaign, Sandy made promises to family members that if they would support him the department would "get rid of" Asbury as a law enforcement officer. This information was not provided to Asbury until October 2012, the suit states.
After Sandy's election and taking office, all was quiet until April 2010 when Sandy allegedly began a pattern of retaliation against Asbury, the lawsuit alleges. Sandy allegedly told Asbury he could resign or be fired, the suit claims.
Under the alleged threats, Asbury resigned, which in reality was a constructive discharge, the suit states.
Asbury began his career as a corrections officer in 1988, became a deputy sheriff in October 2000 and was fully certified by September 2001.
The lawsuit states actions to "get rid of" Asbury in exchange for political support constitute unethical practice under the provisions of West Virginia Code 6B-2-5 and an illegal campaign practice under West Virginia Code 3-8-12 and is otherwise actionable.
Asbury's attorney, Michael Clifford of Charleston, stated the actions of Sandy were willful, wanton, malicious, reckless and contrary to state law, thereby justifying an award of punitive damages.
They are asking for compensatory damages against Sandy in amounts to be determined by a jury in excess of the jurisdictional amounts of this court. The suit also asks that Asbury be awarded punitive damages against Sandy in amounts to be determined by the jury.
They asked the court to issue a declaratory judgment stating the actions of Sandy were unlawful and clearing Asbury's name and employment records and he be awarded all such other and further relief as the nature of his case may require. A trial by jury is requested.