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Judge Greenlights Suit Against Sheriff



A racial discrimination lawsuit against Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody will move forward after U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Payne rejected an attempt by Woody's lawyers last week to have the suit dismissed.

The suit was filed by two white deputies, Eric Aycock and Robert Garrett, who were fired last year. Woody had publicly accused them of incompetence and of colluding to make his department look bad.

The former deputies charge that Woody unfairly dismissed them after the accidental release of prisoners in two separate incidents at the jail. Both have alleged that other deputies were not dismissed -- and in some instances were undisciplined — for similar errors.

Woody has repeatedly told Style Weekly that he handles disciplinary decisions on a case-by-case basis and that both Aycock and Garrett received the punishment they were due.

In dismissing Woody's motion for a summary judgment to dismiss the case, Judge Payne's ruling found in favor of a pleading by Aycock's and Garrett's attorneys that "there are genuine disputes of material fact that preclude summary judgment."

A trial date for the case has been set for June 24.

Since taking office in 2006, Woody has overseen improvements at the jail that have included replacing defective cell door locks and implementing what Woody says are improved services for mentally ill inmates.

During the same period, his department also has weathered criticism for continuing nepotistic policies that he'd used to blast his predecessor, Michelle Mitchell, during the election. A recent spate of inmate deaths — at least six since November — have been reported, all ascribed to natural causes, according to sheriff's office statements.

Claims of racism and cronyism also have plagued the jail. In addition to the suits brought by Garrett and Aycock, at least one other complaint alleging racial discrimination has been filed against Woody with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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