LIMESTONE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - An investigator with the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office is suing over allegations of sexual assault by her superior officer as well as retaliation and harassment.
The Limestone County Sheriff’s Office held a press briefing on Wednesday morning in response to the federal civil lawsuit.
The agency’s public information officer, Deputy Stephen Young, held the press event because Sheriff Mike Blakely had a previous commitment with the local youth council.
“The sheriff’s office will continue in our steadfast commitment to respectful and equal treatment of everyone within the department and outside it, in every way possible. We will continue to strive daily for the excellence our citizens deserve. We will continue to treasure and protect the spirit of unity within our department, with other departments and organizations and the people of Limestone County,” Young said.
He acknowledged the brevity of the news conference, which lasted approximately two minutes, adding that the agency was unable to take any questions from media outlets on the advice of legal counsel.
“The reason we called this brief is because your viewers, your readers, our communities deserve better than silence or no comment. We must conduct some open dialogue in order to protect the relationship we share with our communities,” Young stated at the podium.
“It’s important that the people of Limestone County know and understand there are some reasons why we will not address any of the specific allegations in the lawsuit at this time,” he added.
The federal lawsuit filed Jan. 14 in U.S. District Court names the county, County Commission, Sheriff Mike Blakely, and Chief Deputy Fred Sloss.
The investigator, Leslie Ramsey, says the county and sheriff “engaged in actions that are discriminatory and therefore deprived Plaintiff of her clearly established equal protection rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The allegations include demoting and reprimanding her after she reported a sexual assault from her superior, not disciplining the accused, failing to promote her and promoting less qualified individuals instead, and subjecting her to harassment by male officers.
Ramsey said on Jan. 14, 2017, she and her boyfriend visited Sloss at his home. She alleges he followed her outside and touched her inappropriately across her chest and crotch, pushed her against a car and said he would make her a captain if she consented to his sexual advances. She says she refused.
The plaintiff says she told her boyfriend what happened on the way home.
She says Sloss retaliated by having her watched and followed, including having her followed from the sheriff’s rodeo. She says that after the rodeo, Blakely called her into his office to reprimand her, including threats to demote her and terminate her, calling her a “bad apple."
She also says Blakely refused to speak with her about the alleged assault and did not discipline Sloss.
The plaintiff says that while males in the department were promoted, she was demoted multiple times and later placed on paid leave.
She alleges that harassment and retaliations continued after she filed a grievance with the County Commission regarding the alleged assault, her demotion, and "other harassing and retaliatory conduct experienced during her employment with the sheriff’s office.
The plaintiff further alleges that men in the department were not reprimanded for actions she implies would warrant it.
“As of September 12, 2017, no proper law enforcement investigation was undertaken regarding the sexual assault,” it states in the lawsuit.
Investigator Ramsey alleges that she was reprimanded for losing her county issued cell phone, but that others who “lost cell phones, firearms and seized property were never reprimanded.
On August 7, 2017, the county commission held a hearing regarding Ramsey’s June 6, 2017 grievance; however, the commission has never issued her a ruling. It’s unclear where things stand with her grievance and why a decision by county leaders has not been made.
Calls have been placed to the Limestone County attorney for comment.
On or about Feb. 18, 2015, officers from the sheriff’s department found a murdered female, which presently remains unsolved, according to the lawsuit. In December 2016, Ramsey says she learned that the victim’s cell phone was lost. No one was reprimanded for this incident, the lawsuit states. The sheriff’s office did not address what happened to the phone, who the deceased woman is and why her case has not yet been solved during the press briefing.
EEOC received a discrimination complaint from Ramsey and she was reinstated to her investigator position last February. We reached out to the EEOC for information on their findings but they will not be answering media inquiries until the government reopens.
Ramsey’s attorney, Rebekah Keith McKinney with Watson McKinney, LLP, said she does not comment on pending litigation. They have requested that the case be heard by a jury.
“The conduct of Sheriff Blakely and Sloss was intentional, willful, wanton, and/or sufficiently egregious and improper to a degree that it would require or otherwise substantiate the allowance of punitive damages in the amount to be determined by a jury,” the lawsuit states.
Ramsey hopes the court will award her compensatory damages for lost wages, benefits, overtime, mental anguish, humiliation and loss of reputation.
During the press briefing on Wednesday, Deputy Young stated: “It’s the court’s responsibility to sort out and address those details and any attempt on our part to do so today could compromise that process, however it’s also important that we reassure the people of Limestone County that we’re just as committed to serving them with integrity and kindness, we’re also committed to providing the best workplace environment possible for all our employees as much as possible."