Crime - Sacto 911

Plaintiffs get $3.5 million in suit against Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department

In a stunning decision, Sacramento jurors sided with four female sheriff’s deputies claiming their Sheriff’s Department superiors retaliated against them for speaking out against discrimination and preferential treatment in their ranks.

Jurors awarded more than $3.57 million in damages to the four plaintiffs, including more than $3.2 million to Sheriff's Sgt. Tracie Keillor, who was stricken by a 2013 stroke she said was triggered by the stress of a department internal affairs investigation into her alleged tampering with electronic personnel records. Keillor was later cleared of wrongdoing.

Jurors rejected lengthy testimony from a stream of past and present Sheriff’s Department leaders under whose watch the alleged bias occurred, including Sheriff Scott Jones.

In all, Keillor was awarded more than $1.4 million in projected future earnings, $1.5 million for emotional and physical distress and about $307,000 for past economic losses.

Deputy Jodi Mendonca was awarded $66,240 in earnings lost when she was moved out of a project leader's post. Former jail operations commander Lt. Dawn Douglas was awarded more than $185,000 in lost earnings and emotional distress; while jurors awarded lead plaintiff Lt. Annica Hagadorn $100,000 for emotional distress.

"When they brought this case, it was about opening up a dialogue to these issues. They were trying to take a first step in making changes," said co-counsel Lisa Mak, an employment law attorney at San Francisco-based Minami Tamaki LLP. "Our hope is that it will open a dialogue about these issues."

Sheriff’s lead attorney Nancy Sheehan said she was “befuddled” by a verdict that could have lasting ramifications for a department that for weeks saw its policies, procedures and very culture come under intense scrutiny in the light of open court.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys depicted lead plaintiff and Sheriff’s lieutenants Annica Hagadorn and Lt. Dawn Douglas, Sgt. Tracie Keillor and Deputy Jodi Mendonca as dedicated veteran deputies who were targeted by high-ranking officers: Hagadorn, for speaking out about discrimination in the ranks that laid roadblocks in front of her career, and the others for complaints about a suspected improper relationship between their captain - now-Undersheriff Erik Maness - and a female deputy under his command.

The result, they said, was payback in the form of internal affairs investigations, punitive transfers and promotions that went to other deputies, all scuttling successful careers.

With their decision, jurors flatly rejected the arguments of sheriff’s attorneys who claimed that Hagadorn’s performance, not payback, kept the veteran lieutenant’s career from advancing as well as their denials of preferential treatment toward a deputy plaintiffs allege was close to Maness.

They also rejected lengthy testimony from a stream of past and present Sheriff’s Department leaders under whose watch the alleged bias occurred, including Sheriff Scott Jones and former Sheriff John McGuiness.

“We found a lot of retaliation,” said juror Sheryl Daverio.

Hagadorn was hit with a pair of internal affairs investigations and shipped off from her assignment as a north area patrol watch commander to an Elk Grove jail posting a two-hour drive from her Auburn-area home. The internal inquiries came after Hagadorn filed suit against the department claiming she had been repeatedly passed over for promotions and opportunities to advance.

“It was extremely important,” said Hagadorn, the department’s highest-ranking African-American female officer, her eyes rimmed with tears, following the verdict. “If I don’t lead that charge, how can I expect others to come behind me and want to do the same?”

Mendonca was reassigned from her role as a project manager overseeing work release programs. Keillor suffered a stroke in February 2013 that she alleges was triggered by a Sheriff’s internal affairs investigation into accusations that she had improperly accessed electronic personnel records while on the job. The accusations against Keillor were determined to be unfounded.

On Tuesday, Keillor said simply “Justice has been served.”

Douglas was moved out as operations commander at Sacramento County Main Jail within a month after Maness was named to lead the jail.

“She was stripped of her duty as a lieutenant, stripped of her ability to command and stripped of her dignity,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Jerry Chong of Douglas’ ouster. “She was humiliated in public and it destroyed her ability to advance.”

“We didn’t deserve what was happening to us,” Douglas said, wiping away tears outside the courtroom. “Too many things were happening to too many people and I was ashamed. I said, ‘Someone’s got to do something, and I said, ‘Why not me. Why not me.’”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith