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Whistle-blowing California Sheriff’s Deputy Settles Retaliation Suit For $150,000

by John E. Dannenberg

Butte County, California officials settled a decade-old $1.2 million lawsuit brought by a former county jail deputy who blew the whistle on a jailhouse beating of a child molester ordered by three other deputies, and who was then subjected to a retaliatory bogus prosecution on unrelated charges that he stole property from the Butte County Historical Society. Paying $75,000 each to plaintiff William Shelton and to his attorney, George Kezios, the tiny county ended its own bleeding from over $100,000 in past legal expenses plus an estimated added $75,000 if the matter went to federal trial.

Shelton, 57, was a deputy at the Butte County Jail. In the mid-1990s, he was one of two deputies who went to the media with a report of three other deputies’ having ordered the beating (by other prisoners) of accused Oroville, California child molester Randall Garske. The two whistleblowers were initially fired by then Sheriff Mick Grey, but their jobs were later reinstated and they were allowed to take stress disability retirements. Prosecution of the three accused guards dissipated after one took a deal for a lesser misdemeanor charge and the federal criminal charges of assault under color of authority failed for insufficient evidence.

Subsequent to his whistle blowing, Shelton’s home was searched by deputies on suspicion of receiving stolen property. The items were relics of early California, which he was accused of having taken from the local Historical Society, where he volunteers. Shelton asserted that some of the items were heirlooms handed down in his family through the generations, which he claimed he proved in court. Other items were given to him by a now-deceased curator of the Society for safekeeping. All charges of wrong-doing were dismissed after two criminal trials resulted in hung juries.

Shelton then sued the County for emotional distress on the theory of retaliation for his whistle blowing. The protracted litigation, after 10 years of delays, was looking harder and harder to beat, what with witness memories and availability declining over time. In settling the suit without a third criminal trial, Shelton agreed to return to the Society six items (including a long-barreled rifle, powder horn and American Indian basket) pending his arrangement with the Society and a federal judge to later have them returned to him. See: Shelton v. Butte County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.) Case No. 2:97-cv-01309- MCE-EFB.

Other source: Enterprise-Record.

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Related legal case

Shelton v. Butte County