Fired for accidentally releasing an inmate, former Richmond Sheriff's Deputy Robert Garrett thinks it was his boss who let the wrong man go.
Garrett, 42, who was fired for the September incident, filed a lawsuit against the Richmond Sheriff's Office Jan. 4, accusing Sheriff C.T. Woody of wrongful termination and racist employment practices.
Garrett, however, doesn't dispute the facts of his dismissal. "In a nutshell, I was separated from my job because I made a mistake," Garrett says. "I made a clerical mistake and that resulted in a prisoner being released in error.
"The problem is, I lost my job from this one mistake, but there have been several other instances where this same mistake was made, and those officers still have a job."
The suit names four other instances when deputies released inmates in error. Three of those instances happened during the same month as Garrett's mishap, two allegedly committed by a single supervisory sergeant.
"You have four officers that made the same identical mistake by releasing a prisoner in error, and yet the white officer is the only officer who lost his job over it," says Garrett, a six-year veteran of the jail.
Garrett says the Virginia Employment Commission determined that he wasn't fired for cause, therefore making him eligible for unemployment benefits.
So what happened to all those inmates? Two including Garrett's were confirmed recaptured in news media reports.
Because of a state holiday, the sheriff's office said it was unable to address the other three alleged escapees.
"But simply because it's alleged in Garrett's report does not make it factual," sheriff's spokeswoman Tara Dunlop says.
Woody says "there's no excuse" for prematurely releasing inmates.
"Good luck as far as his suit," Woody says. "He had his chance to serve here at the Richmond Sheriff's Office and he blew it. Integrity and loyalty is something that I require. Not loyalty to me, but to the job."
Garrett felt Woody's wrath even before his dismissal. In June he and two others were removed from shift supervisory posts. "I was told that Sheriff Woody was unhappy with the supervisors on the 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift, which I served on," Garrett says.
Woody, who is black, demoted Garrett and the other white supervisor; the black female was transferred but kept her rank. The other white supervisor was eventually fired after a "violent demonstration in the front office," Garrett says.
Garrett also takes exception with the way he was fired. The day after his Sept. 27 error, he was being treated at a local hospital emergency room for kidney stones. A jail supervisor came to the hospital to demand Garrett's badge and jail identification.
In his suit, Garrett asks for reinstatement to the department at his supervisory rank and back pay from the date of his demotion. He also seeks unspecified punitive damages. S