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Sacramento County seeks new trial in deputies’ bias suit

Sacramento County attorneys will ask a judge to overturn a multimillion-dollar verdict against the county and its Sheriff’s Department for alleged retaliation against four of its own and set a new trial in the civil suit.

Sacramento County officials announced the anticipated decision on Friday, hours before a deadline to file post-trial motions in the case. Sacramento Superior Court jurors in May awarded nearly $3.6 million to four veteran female deputies. The plaintiffs included two lieutenants and a sergeant who attributed a stroke she suffered to an internal affairs investigation into allegations that were later determined to be unfounded.

By 4 p.m. Friday, stacks of filings were awaiting Sacramento Superior Court Judge David De Alba’s review. A hearing on the post-trial motions – one for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the other for a new trial – has been set for July 13 before De Alba.

De Alba must rule on the motions no later than July 18, say county officials.

In their suit, the deputies said they were targeted for retaliation by their superiors and saw their careers derailed after speaking out against discrimination and preferential treatment – much of which was alleged to have occurred under the watch of Sheriff Scott Jones, who is running for Congress.

Attorneys from Sacramento firm Porter Scott called in much of the department’s high command, past and present, including Jones, former Sheriff John McGinness and Undersheriff Erik Maness – a central figure in the deputies’ lawsuit – to testify that poor performance and budget woes, not retaliation, stalled the deputies’ careers.

But jurors, after a six-week trial, sided with the plaintiffs in a $3.57 million decision that broadsided the county and department leaders.

Sacramento County has so far spent nearly $640,000 fighting the suit since it was filed in 2010 by Sheriff’s Lt. Annica Hagadorn. Then a north area patrol watch commander, Hagadorn alleged in her suit that she had been passed over time and again for promotions only to be slapped with internal affairs investigations and transfers when she complained to state employment officials.

Three others, Lt. Dawn Douglas, Deputy Jodi Mendonca and Sgt. Tracie Keillor, who suffered a stroke in 2013, later joined the lawsuit. They alleged that their captain, Erik Maness, now the department’s second-in-command, and other higher-ups retaliated against them for confronting Maness with their suspicions of an improper relationship and preferential treatment of a female deputy under his command.

An internal investigation later cleared Maness and the deputy of improper conduct.

Sacramento County officials and Jones in the days following the verdict emphatically denied the deputies were victims of retaliation, immediately signaling that county attorneys would appeal the May decision.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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