A former Letcher County Deputy Sheriff has filed suit in U.S. District Court against Sheriff Mickey Stines, claiming he retaliated against her for campaigning against him in the election. Stines denies all the allegations.
Alisha Congleton, who served as a deputy for four years, was a sergeant for Sheriff Danny Webb when she and the rest of the deputies were laid off in December after Webb said he learned the state Department of Revenue would not send tax bills out on time.
Congleton is suing Stines individually and in his official capacity, claiming he infringed on her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. She says in her lawsuit that she reapplied to work at the department when Stines took over in January, but he refused to rehire her because she campaigned against him. She also claims that Stines and others working on his behalf have “undermined her opportunity to find other employment.”
Stines was a bailiff in Letcher District Court for 16 years, but Congleton says in the suit that she openly campaigned for another fellow deputy, Eugene Slone, in the Democratic Primary, and for then Chief Deputy Barry Engle, an independent, in the November General Election.
“During the May 2018 primary, the Plaintiff received word indirectly that her job would be in danger if the defendant Stines was elected due to her openly campaigning against him,” the lawsuit alleges.
She also says that Stines knew she was campaigning against him, and that she had a Constitutional right to do so, both allegations that Stines denies. She claims that Stines “made numerous comments to individuals complaining that the plaintiff was campaigning in the Jenkins area and that her campaigning was hurting his election chances.”
Stines has denied the allegation that he did not rehire her because of her campaign activities, and his answer to the lawsuit says that his attorney “lacks sufficient knowledge or information to form a belief as to the truthfulness of the allegations” that she campaigned for Engle, “however, will admit the allegation.” The suit also says Stines’s attorney could not form a belief about her support for Slone.
The response also denies that Stines “acted intentionally,” and that he “knew that retaliating against those who did not support him in the election was a violation of their First Amendment Rights and is actionable” under federal law because he was “acting under color of state law.”
Stines’s response to the suit partly relies on a “sovereign immunity” defense, meaning that his attorney is arguing that he cannot be sued because he is a government official, and on a claim that she is not entitled to punitive damages.
Congleton is asking for judgment against Stines individually and in his official capacity as sheriff, compensation for Congleton’s “embarrassment, humiliation, pain and suffering;” punitive damages against Stines in his individual capacity, reinstatement to her old job with restoration of all lost benefits including lost wages, and a jury trial.
Both Congleton and Stines declined to comment on the suit.