by SEAN BATURA
Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler has been sued by a former employee who claims he was demoted and pressured to resign in retaliation for political associations and free speech.
Richard “Dickey” Haverda, in a suit filed Sept. 8 in federal court, said he maintained a “long-time personal relationship” with former Sheriff Tommy Ratliff, who lost the election to Cutler in November 2010.
Cutler said he believes he will prevail in the lawsuit.
“There’s no merit to it,” he said. “It’s been referred to our attorney here at the county.”
Cutler declined to comment further, which is customary for an elected official who has been sued.
Haverda, who worked in the jail division, said he campaigned for Ratliff. A month before the election, he also wrote a letter to the editor that defended Ratliff against accusations regarding jail maintenance issues. The jail had failed multiple inspections by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which ordered a shutdown of the jail’s kitchen in November 2009.
The jail came back into compliance with state law in June 2010. The commissioners court spent $1.7 million for repairs to the jail roof and kitchen repairs, as well as related studies between July 2009 and June 2011.
Haverda, in his original complaint, said Cutler and the chief deputy made him a scapegoat for all the problems with the jail. Haverda, who was second-in-command of detention operations during the day shift at the jail, said his job was posted on the county’s website as being available less than seven days after Cutler took office last Nov. 15.
Haverda said he was demoted twice under Cutler despite having “consistently received outstanding performance evaluations” over the course of his 22-year career at the sheriff’s office.
Though Haverda retired this past April, he maintains his departure amounted to a “constructive discharge,” meaning he claims the circumstances of his working conditions and retirement were such that he might as well have been fired. He seeks back pay, the opportunity to get his old job back or receive “front pay” and other compensation for damages.
In the lawsuit, Haverda said he was demoted from captain to lieutenant in January. He said he was demoted again on Feb. 23 to the position of corrections officer, resulting in a significant decrease in salary,
status and responsibilities.