Dispute between DougCo sheriff, sheriff’s candidate may go to trial in 2023

New details emerge in ongoing feud

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A settlement has not been reached in the lawsuit between the Douglas County sheriff and his former undersheriff — who is running to replace him — and the case may go to a jury trial in 2023, according to court documents.

The timeline and new details about the ongoing dispute between Sheriff Tony Spurlock and Holly Nicholson-Kluth became available following a March 3 scheduling conference.

Kluth alleged in a federal lawsuit, filed in December, that Sheriff Tony Spurlock, who is term-limited, suppressed her First Amendment rights and violated employment law and internal policies when he demoted her in 2020 and fired her in 2021.

Spurlock denied the allegations in a response filed by his attorney Feb. 18.

“All actions taken by Sheriff Spurlock were taken for legitimate, valid and nondiscriminatory/retaliatory business reasons and were justified by law, rule and regulation,” according to the response. “Plaintiff’s damages, if any, are the result of Plaintiff’s own conduct.”

The conflict began during the 2020 election when Spurlock, a Republican, endorsed Lisa Neal-Graves, a Democrat, for the county commissioner election. In response, Kluth, a Republican, was asked to participate in a plan by the county GOP to gather statements of support from DCSO command staff members for Republican candidates.

Kluth said she initially participated, posting an endorsement to Facebook and submitting it to the county GOP, but then revoked her statement and deleted the post.

Spurlock demoted Kluth as a result of an internal investigation following the situation, saying she violated office policies and accusing her of using her position to influence other members of the command staff to submit statements. Kluth denies that.

In her complaint, Kluth referenced a conversation with the sheriff after his support of Neal-Graves in which he stated he “understood that Ms. Kluth would have to make a statement distancing herself from his endorsement.” In his response, Spurlock denied that happened.

He also denied that after Kluth made the Facebook post, he stopped responding to Kluth’s phone calls and text messages and that the post made him “very upset.”

“Sheriff Spurlock admits that Plaintiff was fully aware that her actions had the effect of publicly undermining his authority as the Douglas County Sheriff,” according to his response.

Spurlock also admitted that no DCSO employees have been disciplined for supporting Daren Weekly, who Spurlock has endorsed as his successor, and said it’s because “the manner in which any employee pledged support for Captain Weekly did not violate DCSO policies,” according to the response.

All four of the candidates for sheriff are running as Republicans with the other two candidates being Commissioner Lora Thomas and former Castle Rock police commander John Anderson. 

In May 2021, Kluth was fired. Kluth has said Spurlock demoted and fired her because she disagreed with him politically. Spurlock says he fired her because of “incredible poor ethics and bad behavior.”

After Kluth was terminated, Spurlock began another internal investigation into her, this time into allegations that she deleted personnel files that showed she had been the subject of a domestic violence incident report in Park County in 1988.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office took over the investigation and eventually recommended that charges be filed against Kluth. The 18th Judicial District chose not to do so. 

Spurlock filed a Brady Letter pertaining to Kluth and the alleged file deletion with the 18th Judicial District on Feb. 17. These letters, named after a 1963 Supreme Court case, warn of possible credibility issues for law enforcement officers.

Normally the letters are attached to any case where the law enforcement officer is mentioned is a witness. Because Kluth is not a witness on any current cases, the letter was submitted preemptively and will be attached to future cases, a legal representative of the 18th Judicial District said.

The DA’s office sends out regular reminders to law enforcement to submit any such letters related to their employees, the representative said.

The judge in the litigation between Kluth and Spurlock has set various deadlines for the case’s proceedings during summer and fall of this year with a final pretrial conference set for Jan. 19, 2023, according to court documents. A five-day jury trial is expected.

Kluth’s legal team plans to depose several people including: 

  • Spurlock
  • Laura Leary, Douglas County human resources director 
  • Jason Kennedy, DCSO Captain of Professional Standards
  • Stu Parker, chairman of the Douglas County Republicans
  • Tim Moore, a former DCSO employee who was also demoted following the internal investigation regarding the 2020 election. Moore was eventually asked to resign.
  • Robert McMahan, a former DCSO employee who told investigators Kluth ordered him to delete part of her personnel file, according to the internal investigation

Spurlock’s defense team plans to depose Kluth. Each deposition is expected to last about seven hours.

Both sides anticipate cell phone data, emails and social media posts to be included in the case, according to court documents.

In her request for relief, Kluth has asked a judge to order Spurlock to reimburse the full amount of her lost salary plus 33% of that salary to cover the value of lost benefits. She’s also seeking front pay “in lieu of reinstatement” up to her planned retirement date. 

Kluth also requests the “lost added value” to her retirement plan and additional damages for emotional distress, suffering, humiliation, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life.

Spurlock has denied that Kluth is entitled to any of the requested relief, according to his response.

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