Sheriff Stephens to appear before Wood County Commission Thursday
PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Commission is continuing to look at ongoing matters regarding Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens.
A lawsuit was filed last Friday against Stephens by Della Matheny, a former deputy in the sheriff’s department.
The lawsuit alleges Stephens violated the West Virginia Human Rights Act, West Virginia Whistleblower Law. The suit alleges Stephens made inappropriate comments to Matheny and took interest in other aspects of her life. The suit also mentions attention Stephens supposedly made regarding another deputy, Tasha Hewitt.
County officials said Stephens was out sick Monday and was not able to appear. The sheriff informed the commission he would like to appear Thursday. The commission put the sheriff on the agenda Thursday to come in and discuss the lawsuit filed by Matheny.
Last week, Stephens appeared before the commission to address the vote of no confidence in his leadership taken by the Wood County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. After an executive session, the commission said they believed Stephens could work to regain the department’s trust.
The commission went into executive session again Monday to discuss a personnel matter related to the sheriff’s department. Commission President Blair Couch said the matter was already on the budget when they were served with Matheny’s lawsuit on Friday.
“We do need to discuss the new lawsuit that has been filed,” he said. “We are the purse strings of the county.
“Anyone who wants to file a lawsuit against any segment of the county always includes us.”
Couch said the sheriff does not have a litigation fund set up. The county has insurance to deal with such matters and has to meet a $15,000 deductible.
“With this lawsuit one of the fallacies is that we have control over (an elected official’s) employees,” Couch said. “The way it works is the elected official is responsible for their employees and how they run their office.
“Far be it from the commission to try to say how.”
County officials have said any effort to convene a three judge panel to look at removing an elected official would have a high “evidentiary bar” to meet.
“The evidence that could be presented right now is low,” Couch said.
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel objected to the executive session Monday on the grounds of the matter being in the public interest. Couch said they were doing so because of the nature of continuing litigation in this matter and they were still discussing the original vote of no confidence by the deputy association. A local resident, Charlie Roberts, also raised an objection mentioning how the commission took a vote of confidence in the sheriff after the association’s no confidence vote.
Couch said the commission was going into executive session and did not comment further to Roberts.
Following the executive session, Couch said he could not comment further Monday due to “ongoing litigation.”
Brett Dunlap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org