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County agrees to settle sexual harassment suit

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

Clayton County has agreed to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit involving a former police recruit and a now-retired police sergeant.

Attorney Jack Hancock, whose private law firm is representing the county, said county officials recently agreed to settle the case for $70,000.

"We meditated the case, and at the mediation, the plaintiff agreed they would settle for that number," said Hancock. "We brought that number to the board, and the board agreed," he said.

Hancock said the county has not yet received the settlement documents signed by the plaintiff, but he said the plaintiff's attorney, Terry-Dawn Thomas, has told the county that the documents have been signed.

Thomas declined to comment on the case on Wednesday.

A 36-year-old female police recruit filed the suit against the county in U.S. District Court on April 24. The lawsuit claimed that former Clayton County Police Sgt. Hank Derbyshire kissed her, and repeatedly touched her improperly on Aug. 5, "without invitation or consent." She also claimed that Police Chief Jeff Turner did not properly discipline Derbyshire.

Derbyshire admitted to kissing and "necking" with the recruit, according to internal police records. Chief Turner said Wednesday afternoon that he was not aware that the case had been settled. "It was very unfortunate that the situation happened," he said. "We investigate each and every complaint that comes into the police department.

"When she [plaintiff] made the outcry, it was immediately investigated," he said. "I think her biggest problem was that I didn't fire him [Derbyshire], and the county policy gave me the discretion to handle it anywhere from written reprimand, up to and including termination.

"I did take immediate action and he was disciplined. He got demoted from Sgt. all the way back down to patrolman. That's why he lost so much money - $15,000 [in annual salary]," said Turner.

Turner said Derbyshire was also transferred to a department in which he had no contact with the public, and was required to take sensitivity classes. Turner said because of the demotion, "He took a hit on his retirement [pay]." Derbyshire retired last month, after 28 years with the police department.

"Even though he's retired, he still has to deal with P.O.S.T. [Peace Officer Standards and Training Council] to see if they want to pull his certification," Turner said. "Without that certification, his days of being a police officer are over with," said Turner.

The plaintiff, who asked not to be identified, now works with another metro Atlanta police department, according to Thomas.

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said: "The Clayton County Board of Commissioners and I have had some very serious ongoing discussions about these types of matters, and ... we will not tolerate this kind of behavior out of our employees or against our employees."

Bell also said the county has hired an attorney to look into another sexual harassment allegation at the police department. In a written response Wednesday, Clayton County's Chief Staff Attorney, Michael Smith, said the county does not comment on pending litigation. However, Smith did confirm that on May 12, the county received a written notice of intent to sue from the attorney of a police department employee.

"The notice states that the employee reported sexual harassment, and after the offending employee was disciplined, she [the victim] was subjected to subsequent retaliation from other employees for having reported her claims," Smith said.

Smith said the allegation is under investigation. Turner confirmed that he, along with police officers who have knowledge of the case, were questioned last week. He said the allegation was made "some time last year."

"The claim was made a while back, and we took appropriate action," said Turner. " The complaint came to us. We handled it," he said. "The officer involved in that received disciplinary action for his action," said Turner.

Turner said he could not elaborate further, referring all other questions to the county attorney.