County hit with free-speech lawsuit |

County hit with free-speech lawsuit

Animal advocate Susan Wallace has filed a lawsuit against Nevada County Sheriff’s Office at a federal court in Sacramento alleging her freedom of speech rights were violated.

Filed on July 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, the lawsuit names Sheriff Keith Royal, Capt. Ron Smith and retired Lt. Ron Earles as defendants in the case.

On numerous occasions between March 12 and July 18, Wallace “spoke out by complaining to management and others at the animal shelter regarding matters of public concern and perceived violations of law and public policy,” the suit said.

Wallace’s position as a volunteer at the animal shelter was terminated on July 20 by Royal and Smith, two days after she questioned Earles about “the propriety and legality of the planned euthanization of one of the kennel dogs,” the lawsuit said.

Terminating Wallace was done with “the intent of depriving the plaintiff of her constitutional right to free speech” and “to chill the plaintiff’s right of freedom of speech in talking about disclosing the wrongdoing of defendants, to intimidate and coerce the plaintiff and, by example, other volunteers, into not speaking out further on the subject and to discredit the plaintiff and destroy her credibility in the event that she does not speak further on the subject,” the lawsuit said.

The Sheriff’s Office disputed the claims. “We were taken aback that her attorney has chosen to file a lawsuit at this time. We were engaged in what we thought were productive discussions,” Royal said Thursday.

Volunteers were required to surrender their freedom of speech “as they were not to speak to the media or answer any questions from the media regarding shelter operations,” the lawsuit continued.

Actions of the defendants were “outrageous, were done in reckless and careless disregard of the plaintiff’s rights and were done intentionally, willfully, maliciously, fraudulently and oppressively,” the lawsuit said.

Dogs were euthanized in violation of the law when rescue organizations and homes were available, the suit alleges.

“We’ve attained one of the lowest euthanasia rates in the state,” ranging from 2 to 3 percent of animals, thanks to the cooperation of volunteers and various animal rescue groups, Royal said. Animals that are euthanized are those deemed vicious, feral cats and older animals with major medical problems, Royal said.

The shelter failed to spay and neuter dogs prior to release, it did not provide necessary and prompt veterinary care, nutrition or shelter nor were the animals treated kindly or humanely, the lawsuit said.

Also, the shelter staff collected money for animal medicine and treatment but did not use money for the animals, and money received from an estate for the use of spaying and neutering of animals was not used for the expressed purpose it was given, the lawsuit also alleged.

Royal said Wallace’s dismissal was not caused by her voicing her concerns but could not provide further details because of confidentiality reasons.

“We discontinued her service as a volunteer. It wasn’t due to her concern about policies or practices,” Royal said.

Since then, an in-depth review of the shelter has been made, Royal said.

“We feel it’s well run,” Royal said.

A dollar amount has not been determined in the lawsuit and a court date hasn’t been set, said Wallace’s attorney, Anthony Poidmore said.

The lawsuit follows a claim Wallace filed late last year with the California Labor Board, regarding Wallace’s dismissal from her volunteer position at the county’s animal shelter last summer. The claim was rejected.

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