By CARY ASPINWALL AND ZIVA BRANSTETTER
Two days before Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office announced the termination of former jail administrator Shannon Clark, a former employee filed a lawsuit alleging “hostile and malicious conduct,” naming Clark and other jail staff.
The lawsuit, filed by former officer Vanessa McFadden, said she was subjected to a hostile working environment by Sheriff’s Sgt. Judy Pounds and others.
Pounds, according to the lawsuit, accused McFadden of sleeping with superiors to advance her career and flaunting the names of her parents, both former highly regarded Tulsa Police officers.
Sheriff’s officials announced Friday they had fired Clark, the former spokesman and public face of the department, after a “three-week evaluation” of his job performance. Officials declined to immediately provide a specific reason for Clark’s termination, or any records related to their decision.
Sheriff Stanley Glanz told The Frontier Friday he could not comment on the lawsuit or Clark’s departure.
Clark is the third high-ranking member of the sheriff’s department to be forced out in recent weeks after the fallout of the shooting of Eric Harris by Reserve Deputy Robert Bates. Bates claimed he confused his Taser with a revolver when he fatally shot Harris on April 2 during a botched undercover gun sting.
Immediately after Bates name surfaced as the shooter, Clark ominously told a reporter: “This is going to be bad.”
In the weeks following Harris’ death, reports and records emerged showing Bates was granted power and privileges based on his financial largesse, favors and longtime friendship with Glanz.
A grassroots organization currently seeking Glanz’s ouster said it has gathered half of the 5,000 signatures required to impanel a grand jury investigation, based on allegations that Glanz had essentially lost control of the Sheriff’s Office.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Tulsa County District Court, McFadden does not make any direct accusations against Clark or Glanz, but Clark was the administrator of the jail while she worked there.
Glanz, the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners, former Undersheriff Tim Albin and Capt. William McKelvey are also named as defendants in the lawsuit, along with Clark and Pounds.
The lawsuit, filed by Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson, states that McFadden began working for the Sheriff’s Office in 2011. In January 2013, she was assigned a job at the courthouse transferring prisoners.
The suit states that McFadden’s supervisor, Sgt. Judy Pounds, “from the very beginning … exhibited very hostile and malicious conduct” toward McFadden.
“Sgt. Pounds made it known to the Plaintiff that she was of the view that Plaintiff had advanced so well and far in her career by ‘f—ing’ with some of her superiors and/or name-dropping, when vying for advancement,” the lawsuit states.
“For example, Sgt. Pounds told Plaintiff: ‘I will tell you one thing: I did not get the stripes on my sleeve by lying on my back. … I also heard that you throw Chief (Rick) Weigel’s name down at the drop of hat, because you know him.’”
Pounds is the wife of Brian Pounds, a former candidate for Tulsa County Commissioner who works for County Assessor Ken Yazel. Pounds was a reserve deputy for Glanz in 2005 when he and Yazel accompanied other deputies to serve a warrant in Okmulgee County.
Yazel ended up shooting the man in the buttocks after he allegedly tried to grab Pounds’ gun. The 2005 shooting is among the issues a citizens group is asking a grand jury to investigate.
The suit states that in another instance, Pounds said McFadden “flaunts her parents’ status to gain favor at TCSO. Both of Plaintiff’s parents were former highly regarded Tulsa Police Department officers.”
McFadden eventually filed a grievance against Pounds, which resulted in an internal affairs investigation, the lawsuit states.
“The resulting backlash on Plaintiff for filing a grievance was brutal,” it states.
Pounds allegedly “sent a deputy to pry at Plaintiff’s residence when she was off-duty under the guise of a welfare check.”
After several months, McFadden requested a transfer to a new department but Pounds informed her she would still be assigned to the courthouse under another sergeant, the lawsuit states.
“While the internal affairs investigation was still taking place, some TCSO officials warned Plaintiff to drop her internal investigation proceedings, and some, like Captain William McKelvey went so far as to warn Plaintiff that ‘if you value your employment in Tulsa County, then you won’t hire counsel against us,’” it states.
The internal affairs investigation against Pounds was closed with no finding of wrongdoing in late 2013, the lawsuit states.
In January 2014, McFadden was assaulted by an inmate while on the job and sustained a traumatic brain injury, resulting in a worker’s compensation claim. Though the district attorney normally prosecutes inmates in such cases, the lawsuit states the charges were filed “but almost immediately after dropped.”
“When Plaintiff called the DA’s office asking about the dropped charges, she was told that Captain William McKelvey had personally altered the police report and pushed for the charges to be dropped, without ever informing the Plaintiff.”
McFadden called the Sheriff’s jail investigations unit to find out why charges had been dropped. Employees in the unit “informed Plaintiff that they were told that ‘if McFadden ever called about the dropped charges, she can call McKelvey himself about it.’”
A week later, McFadden was told to attend a pre-action hearing and on March 10, 2014, she was fired, the lawsuit states.
“As a colleague put it to her bluntly: this was no longer an investigation, but a witch hunt But it did not end there,” the lawsuit states.
McFadden had previously worked for federal agencies including the Department of Defense and Department of Veteran Affairs and left with positive reviews, the suit states. However she was not hired by three prospective employers after they contacted the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.
“Defendants … defamed Plaintiff in that they falsely presented her to prospective employers as being not only incompetent, but also someone who was averse to authority. Put simply, she was branded a ‘trouble maker.’ But this was patently false,” the lawsuit states.