By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – A January trial is set in a lawsuit against Canadian County Sheriff Chris West filed by former employees who allege they were wrongfully terminated.
Canadian County Commissioners met in executive session Nov. 13 to receive confidential communications from legal counsel about the civil suit.
Two separate lawsuits – filed in April 2022 by former sheriff’s investigator Marty Burns and deputy Chelsea Adkins – were consolidated this June as one case in Canadian County District Court.
A jury trial is set Jan. 8, 2024, before Canadian County Special Judge Khristan K. Strubhar. Pretrial conference is scheduled Dec. 20.
Sheriff West, who will seek reelection in 2024 to a new four-year term, said Nov. 16 he did not want to comment on the lawsuit because it is pending litigation.
The executive session was listed as a “special” agenda item for the Canadian County Commissioners’ Nov. 13th regular meeting.
Commissioners heard from attorney Jordan L. Miller of the Oklahoma City law firm Collins Zorn & Wagner PC, who represents Sheriff West in the lawsuit.
“We received an up-to-date report on the status of the case,” Canadian County Commission Chairman Dave Anderson said. “We talked about the schedule of (court events) that are going to happen.”
Communications in the executive session were confidential.
“Public disclosure of these confidential communications would seriously impair the ability of the Board and its attorney to properly process and defend this litigation,” according to the agenda language.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege sheriff’s Maj. Adam Flowers in late 2020 or early 2021 had given Adkins a computer to use that had been seized as evidence in a child pornography investigation – but the computer had not been “adjudicated forfeited.”
A second alleged incident occurred in April 2021 when Burns and Adkins claim Flowers accessed a suspect’s phone to download content from the individual’s personal social media and Google accounts without the device owner’s permission – constituting an illegal search.
After speaking with Sheriff West and Undersheriff Kevin Ward in May 2021 about the incidents, Adkins and Burns allege they began to receive different treatment – including in how their assignments were laid out – and disciplinary action. They contended they were fired Aug. 20, 2021.
Burns became a full-time investigator at the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office in April 2020. Adkins joined the department as a full-time civilian computer forensics examiner in February 2017, then became a fully certified officer in August 2019.
They are represented in this lawsuit by attorney Jonathan M. Irwin of the Norman law firm Ward & Glass LLP.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS
Sheriff West’s attorney on Nov. 6 filed motions for summary judgment, arguing the plaintiffs had not identified a “compelling” public policy that prevented West from terminating them.
Judge Strubhar will hear the defendant’s motions for summary judgment Dec. 14, according to the court docket.
Sheriff West made the “final decision” to terminate Burns and Adkins at the recommendation of Assistant District Attorney Tommy Humphries, court documents show.
Insubordination, unsatisfactory job performance and lack of confidence are cited as reasons in briefs supporting the motions for summary judgment.
Canadian County Commissioners were dismissed on May 27, 2022, as a defendant in the lawsuit.
District Judge Paul Hesse on June 26 approved combining two civil suits that had been filed separately on behalf of Burns and Adkins.
The “matters have common questions of law and fact” and “consolidation will promote judicial economy and will result in a fair resolution of the two actions without unnecessary expense or delay,” Hesse wrote in his court order.