Retaliation suit against Nevada County Sheriff’s Office gets underway | TheUnion.com

Retaliation suit against Nevada County Sheriff’s Office gets underway

Nearly seven years after she was fired by the Nevada County Sheriffs Office, a suit filed by Yvonne Evans and her husband, retired Lt. Bill Evans, finally got underway Wednesday morning in Nevada County Superior Court.

Yvonne Evans claims she was retaliated against after complaining of sexual harassment by then-Undersheriff Richard Kimball, with criminal charges of embezzlement and eventual termination. Bill Evans claims that he was forced to retire after being subjected to an internal affairs investigation and a fitness-for-duty evaluation.

According to the Evans' attorney, Kerry Schaffer, the couple suffered adverse actions — termination and forced retirement — after engaging in a protected activity, making a sexual harassment complaint.

The county's attorney, Carl Fessenden, argued there was no connection between the complaint and Yvonne's termination. Fessenden told the jury that Yvonne Evans was fired because of mistakes and because of dishonesty — and because of missing money.

During opening statements, Schaffer laid out a complicated time line stretching back to Yvonne Evans' hiring as a senior accounting assistant in 2004. At the time, Yvonne was married to Keith Cantrell, who was characterized as violent and abusive by Yvonne's attorney.

Yvonne left Cantrell in 2008, while she was working at the county jail and while she was under Bill's supervision.

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Late that year, Schaffer said, Kimball grabbed her and kissed her on the forehead.

"She had no interest in Richard Kimball," Schaffer said, adding that Yvonne backed away.

A month later, Yvonne heard that Kimball was asking questions about her personal life. In response, Schaffer said, she made an informal complaint to her union shop steward.

In 2009, Yvonne was transferred out of the jail to the Rood Center so that her work could be more closely supervised, Schaffer said. Yvonne and Bill began a romantic relationship later that year and married in 2010.

After they married, Cantrell accused Yvonne of stealing from the Sheriff's Office. She was subsequently placed on leave pending the results of an internal affairs investigation and a criminal investigation.

Yvonne Evans was arrested in August 2011 and charged with four misdemeanor counts of withholding fines after more than $13,000 allegedly was discovered missing. The criminal case against her was dismissed after a judge determined the filing was past the one-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors.

Kimball is central to the case, Schaffer told the jury.

"He claims he didn't do anything," he said, adding the evidence would show that Kimball had hard feelings against Yvonne because she rejected him.

Once Yvonne was fired in 2011, Schaffer said, the sheriff's office began to "make life intolerable for Bill" until he decided to retire.

County's claims

The issue the jury has to determine is whether Yvonne's termination was connected to her complaint, agreed the county's attorney.

"Our contention is there is no connection," Fessenden argued in his opening statement.

According to Fessenden, Yvonne Evans did not file an official complaint of sexual harassment until 2011, after she was given a notice the county intended to fire her.

"Yvonne was the person responsible for the money at the jail — no one else," he said. "The conclusion reached was that she lost, misplaced, misused or failed to account for $13,000 in cash."

That figure was later revised by the county, to more than $17,000.

Kimball was not involved in any way with the disciplinary actions against Yvonne, Fessenden said. And, he said, upper management did not force Bill to retire.

Bill Evans was the first witness called, spending most of Wednesday afternoon detailing his career and explaining the management structure of the Sheriff's Office.

He said he began supervising Yvonne in 2008, when he began working as lieutenant at the jail.

Kimball told him that Yvonne was going to be his biggest challenge, and characterized her as having attention deficit disorder, Bill testified.

Bill said he believed Yvonne was having a hard time doing her job because of her abusive relationship with Cantrell.

"I started feeling protective of her," he said. "She was such a basket case because he was in her face all the time."

At one point, Bill grew emotional when he described a gift he gave Yvonne during that time — a Pringles can filled with sand from Venice Beach.

"She told me she had always wanted to go to the beach, but he had never let her," he said, tearing up.

Bill said he subsequently left the jail and stopped supervising Yvonne and that they became romantically involved after that.

Testimony continues today in the suit, which is expected to take at least two weeks.

To contact reporter Liz Kellar, email lizk@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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