Lawsuit: Former deputy, veteran with PTSD sues Henderson Co. sheriff for discrimination

Sheriff Charles McDonald (file/FOX Carolina)

A former employee of the Henderson County Sheriff's Office is suing the sheriff after he claims he faced discrimination and retaliation.

Geoffrey Turner worked for the agency as an officer for 3 years and previously served in the U.S. Army National Guard. According to the lawsuit, Turner suffers from hearing loss and PTSD after serving in Afghanistan.

The lawsuit states that when Turner joined the warrant squad of the Henderson County Sheriff's Office, he faced harassment from other deputies based on his military service and hearing loss. His PTSD symptoms worsened after being transferred to the squad and facing harassment, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, after consulting with a medical professional, Turner was given a note to take leave amid his worsening symptoms and when he spoke to a superior about taking leave, he was told "With this PTSD maybe this profession is not what's best for you." He said he never told the captain that he had PTSD, only that he needed to take medical leave.

When he returned, Turner said he was told, "Sheriff just wanted to make sure that you knew that if you take any more time off you will be fired," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit says he later received an administrative complaint and discipline form for being unable to hear other officers calling his name at the scene of an arrest, referring to his "hearing issue." He contacted the Henderson County Veterans Service Office about the form and afterward the captain asked him to bring the paper back to the office, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says he was later told by the captain, “If I see you with that hearing aid not in your ear, you will be fired" and “If you speak of your military experience, you will be fired. You are just Deputy Turner and that’s it.”

He was later moved to SWAT in 2015 and said he was similarly told by a sergeant, "A bunch of people want me to tell you, nobody wants to hear about your military experience."

The lawsuit states that in May 2015, amid worsening PTSD symptoms, he was told by McDonald to take MFLA leave. While on leave and on new medications that "messed him up," the lawsuit says Turner posted to Facebook about the harassment he faced but later removed the posts.

In July 2017, the lawsuit states that McDonald called Turner into his office and offered him the chance to resign, saying he would not let him return to work as a result of the Facebook posts.

The lawsuit says when Turner apologized and explained he had been facing harassment for the last three years, McDonald told him, "I prayed about this, and all it is, is you just take things way too personal.”

Turner submitted his resignation on July 22, 2015 “due to multiple and consistent experience of veterans discrimination," the lawsuit states.

The Henderson County Sheriff's Office said they are unable to disclose any details on the case since it involves a personnel matter, but said, "these claims are without merit, and we will gladly provide a copy of our responsive pleadings as soon as they are filed with the court."

"Sheriff McDonald holds our veterans in the highest regard, as he himself and many others in the office are veterans," said Public Information Officer Maj. Frank Stout. "This agency has a unique and thorough understanding of their sacrifice and value to our nation. Sheriff McDonald appreciates that numerous veterans have proven to be a most valuable asset when they seek a career in law enforcement. They bring leadership and decision-making skills, the ability to work within a team, and a proven commitment to mission success and the welfare of the organization."

A jury trial is requested in the case.

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