Bluffton denies claims made in lawsuit filed by former police lieutenant

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Bluffton denies claims made in lawsuit filed by former police lieutenant

By RENEE DUDLEY rdudley@islandpacket.com 843-706-8138
Published Tuesday, March 2, 2010   |  703 Words  |  news/local

The town of Bluffton has denied accusations made in a former police lieutenant's lawsuit that she was laid off because the police chief "was afraid" she would report him for favoritism and a lack of professionalism.
The town asked that the suit be dismissed, according to its answer filed Feb. 10.
Katherine Sours, 53, filed the lawsuit in November after she was laid off in June. She seeks unspecified damages and a jury trial.
Sours, who retired from the Coral Gables Police Department in Florida before joining the Bluffton force in 2006, was demoted to the patrol division in February 2009, according to the suit.
The demotion came a month before the department received national accreditation, an effort Sours led, the suit says.
The town says Sours was "a participant in the accreditation efforts, as were many officers and other employees of the Bluffton Police Department."
The town's answer also says Sours' "employment was at-will and could be terminated at any time for good reason, bad reason or no reason at all."
Regarding Sours' termination, the town did not act "in bad faith, in a malicious manner, with corrupt motives or with discriminatory intent," according to the answer.
Sours -- who said she had an unblemished record during her three years with the department -- also alleges in her suit that Chief David McAllister made "sexually derogatory and inappropriate" comments to staff and "intimidated and embarrassed the employees he supervised."
The town says "McAllister occasionally made off-color comments, as did other officers and/or employees of the Bluffton Police Department."
Sours alleges her demotion was in retaliation for her complaints about McAllister's "inappropriate and unprofessional conduct."
The town denies that allegation.
Though Sours was laid off in June during townwide budget cuts, two other lieutenants with less seniority kept their positions, the suit says.
The town admitted the two lieutenants "had less overall experience in law enforcement compared to (Sours)," but had more experience in South Carolina law enforcement.
The suit alleges that McAllister manipulated then-town manager Bill Workman to get Sours fired, and that Workman did not properly investigate the reasons for her termination.
The town denies those allegations.
Sours also alleges that McAllister publicly insulted police officers, other town employees, Town Council members and residents, according to the suit.
The town does not specifically respond to those allegations, saying only it "lacks sufficient knowledge or information."
After Sours' departure, McAllister told his officers to "collect dirt" on her, the suit says.
The town responded that after Sours' departure, McAllister "instructed officers to copy or print certain e-mails previously sent (to them by Sours) so that said e-mails could be discussed in a meeting."
The purpose of the exercise was to address "any confusion regarding operational issues discussed or referenced within said e-mails."
Sours' suit also mentions a pay raise for McAllister's executive assistant.
"McAllister had a favorite staff member, a former Hooters employee to whom he gave a substantial raise and title, executive assistant, so she could act as his 'eyes and ears,' " the suit claims. The employee is not named in the suit.
The town replied that "McAllister had a staff member who was a former employee of Hooters." Her pay raise resulted from the reclassification of her job from "administrative assistant" to "executive assistant," according to the town's answer.
McAllister, hired in 2006, came under fire last fall when a group of officers in the department made formal complaints against him to town manager Anthony Barrett and town attorney Terry Finger.
Barrett first met with a group of officers Sept. 30 to listen to grievances against McAllister. Barrett confirmed then that several officers reported that high-ranking officials in the Police Department made threats against those who planned to attend that meeting.
No hearings in the suit have been scheduled.
Sours also has filed an age discrimination complaint with the S.C. Human Affairs Commission and with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In that complaint, filed Nov. 25, Sours said McAllister "made comments about my age and how old I was on numerous occasions."