Monday, December 14, 2009

Former Lawrence County Dispatcher Sues Sheriff And Local Paper:

A former Lawrence County dispatcher has sued Lawrence County sheriff Brad Delay and the local newspaper The Lawrence County Record for defamation of character.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield on behalf of Shannon Mitchell. Mitchell claims in the lawsuit that Sheriff Brad Delay inaccurately told the Lawrence County Record that she was on duty when an inmate escaped, and that she was dismissed for violations of jail policy related to the escape.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Springfield says Mitchell's reputation was harmed by the Record's report. Mitchell claims the sheriff told Record editor Kathy Fairchild that she was dismissed for violating jail policy related to the escape of an inmate in July.

The lawsuit alleges that the sheriff told the newspaper that Mitchell was on duty at the time of the escape and was reported in the Aug. 5 edition of the Lawrence County Record to the detriment of the plaintiff’s reputation.

Mitchell claims that the sheriff’s statements implied that she was “in some way responsible for and may have committed a crime.”

According to court documents the newspaper reported in the article that an inmate had escaped, two jail employees were fired and that the jail had been closed, according to the lawsuit. But the plaintiff “was in no way connected to the escape of the inmate, was not on duty at the time of the escape and was never sought nor questioned about her possible involvement in such escape” by either the sheriff or the newspaper.

In July there were two escapes of inmates from the Lawrence County jail, which eventually led to the closing of the jail on July 29th. The July 25th escape was followed by what has been characterized as “a riot” among the remaining prisoners, during which an electrical conduit was pulled down and a blackout took place inside the jail.

Delay cited numerous safety concerns — malfunctioning locks, destroyed cameras and a lack of lighting and closed the jail.

Mitchell is seeking $75,000 and punitive damages in her suit.

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