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Lawsuit: Sheriff Unfairly Fired White Deputies

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Settlement negotiations fell through last week in a pair of racial discrimination lawsuits filed against Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody, and the case is scheduled for trial in federal court March 5.

Two white former sheriff's deputies, Eric Aycock and Robert Garrett, whom Woody fired for mistakenly releasing prisoners in separate incidents, claim they were treated differently from their African-American counterparts. In separate discrimination lawsuits, Aycock and Garrett charge that Woody did not fire black deputies who also mistakenly released prisoners on four other occasions.

Woody confirmed the basic facts of the allegation in previous interviews with Style Weekly, though he said that he handled disciplinary decisions on a case-by-case basis and that Garrett had previous marks on his record.

In the meantime, however, the plaintiffs say they continue to hear about questionable personnel decisions in the sheriff's office, including Woody's recent promotion of his son, who had no prior law enforcement experience, to captain.

Reached Jan. 4, Woody's spokesperson refused to discuss the promotion of Clarence Woody III, who is identified on the sheriff's office Web site as captain of transportation. The sheriff's son was a middle manager for local trucking firm Overnight Transportation when his father hired him as a deputy in 2006 at a $50,000 starting salary, far outstripping the average $30,000 starting salary for a deputy. The younger Woody made lieutenant less than a year later.

When asked for comment, Woody released only one brief statement, claiming that Style Weekly reporter Chris Dovi, who has reported on the case in the past, "has been working closely with the plaintiffs and he has the type of information you are looking for." Although threatened with a subpoena for notes on the story late last year, neither Dovi nor Style has provided anything to the plaintiffs' attorneys other than published articles.

William Shields, who represents both Aycock and Garrett, said Jan. 4 that he hadn't yet confirmed Woody III's promotion. "If that's true," Shields says, "it doesn't make the sheriff's office look too good." Shields, who is in the discovery process preparing for trial, said he also had been hearing about "a number of instances … where it appears white officers were not treated the same as African-Americans."

Garrett says that Woody made no settlement offer at the Jan. 4 meeting and spoke to neither him nor Aycock. "They've got until March 5 and 6," Garrett says. "If they decide to settle out of court the day of [trial] on the courthouse steps, that won't hurt my feelings. … They know we're serious and we're not going anywhere." S





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