WISE — A former Coeburn policewoman has alleged she was wrongfully fired in a lawsuit filed against the town, three of the town’s elected officials and a former town manager.
The suit by Angel M. Hurd, a former lieutenant in Coeburn’s Police Department before a shakeup in that department last year, alleges her due process rights were violated when she was “forced to resign ... under duress, threats, intimidation and coercion” in violation of state law and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The suit names as defendants the town, Mayor Jess Powers, Vice Mayor Charles Kiser and Councilman Charles Collins, as well as former Town Manager Loretta M. Mays. Mays was herself fired from her post earlier this year by the Town Council and is the subject of an unrelated criminal case involving embezzlement charges in Wise County Circuit Court.
Hurd was a police officer for Coeburn from early 2006 until Aug. 1 of last year and held the rank of lieutenant when she was dismissed.
In her suit, Hurd alleges she was advised by former Coeburn Police Chief Willie Stout that Charles Collins “was out to get her” and threatening to have Town Council vote to fire her. Hurd alleges Stout advised her “not to do anything” including making arrests or writing traffic tickes, only to “drive around and look pretty.”
Hurd alleges she called Mays not in Mays’ capacity as the town manager, but as a personal confidante, to ask about retaining an attorney “due to the sexist remarks” allegedly made by Stout. Hurd alleges Mays offered to provide her with a recording device to record conversations she might have with Stout or council members, but she never picked it up.
Hurd alleges Mays also said she would file a complaint against Stout requesting an investigation into Hurd’s allegations against the former police chief and rejected Hurd’s request not to conduct an investigation. Mays said she was going to file a report/complaint and meet with Powers and Kiser over the matter.
On July 17, 2012, Hurd alleges Mays met with Powers and Kiser. Late that same night Hurd alleges she found Powers and Kiser parked in her driveway. When she approached the two officials, Hurd alleges their response was they were “getting the feel of the town.”
The following day Coeburn Town Council met in closed session, according to Hurd’s lawsuit, the result being the placement of Stout and Police Dapt. Randy Stanley on administrative leave pending an investigation. In her suit Hurd alleges she attended the closed session and advised Town Council she did not want an investigation into Stout’s comments to her and that Mays’ actions were against her wishes and “would hurt (her) career and family.”
On Aug. 1 the Town Council held an emergency session during which Stout was dismissed, and later that night Hurd alleges she was called into Interim Police Chief Cossie Hale’s office and advised that not only was Stout fired, but Hurd was too.
Hurd alleges Hale told her that if she “resigned and left quietly” she would receive her pay and compensatory time owed, including vacation and sick pay, but absent a resignation by 2 p.m. on Aug. 2, or 16 hours later, she would be fired and not paid.
The lawsuit alleges Hurd was not provided in writing the basis for her termination or given an opportunity to respond according to state law. She was also not provided written notification of her right to file a grievance under the town’s own procedures in accordance with state law.
The town appealed Hurd’s application for unemployment benefits, granted after a Virginia Employment Commission deputy determined she was “discharged without evidence of misconduct connected with work.” The town’s appeal met a similar fate when the appeals examiner made the same finding.
The appeals examiner’s findings, cited in the lawsuit, notes that “the employer believed that (Hurd) allegedly falsified information or made up information. The employer was not able to establish this through testimony, and there is nothing in the record that indicates that (Hurd’s) involuntary separation was a result of misconduct.”
Hurd is asking the court to restore her position as a police lieutenant with the Coeburn Police Department with back pay and benefits entitled from the date of termination forward, pre-judgment interest from Aug. 2, 2012 forward, reimbursement for all legal fees and expenses, including attorney fees, and further relief to which she may be entitled.
Hurd is represented by Kingsport attorneys D. Bruce Shine and Rodney B. Rowlett III and Norton attorney Greg Stewart.
When contacted Monday, Powers said he was unaware of the lawsuit. An effort to contact Town Attorney Gary Gilliam was unsuccessful.