Crime & Public Safety

Fired Beaufort Co. deputy alleges discrimination. Sues sheriff’s office, wants job back

A deputy fired from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office for misconduct has sued her former employer, saying she was discriminated against because she’s black, female and lesbian. She also contends she was treated more harshly than the white men she worked with, according to the lawsuit filed earlier this month.

The 21-page suit, filed by Selena Nelson and her Mount Pleasant attorneys, alleges the Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff P.J. Tanner, and Lt. Brian Baird violated her rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VII and denied her equal terms and conditions of employment that white male employees had.

The suit claims Nelson “always met or exceeded her employer’s reasonable expectations for job performance and conduct.”

Contacted Friday, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Bob Bromage declined comment on the suit citing the ongoing litigation.

An internal investigation following a citizen’s complaint in connection with a July 2017 incident led to her firing, the suit says. It contends that investigation was “sloppy and incomplete” and that the Sheriff’s Office “used the spurious and unsupported customer complaint as a pretext to ‘investigate’ and ultimately terminate” her.

“Best practices” were ignored during a polygraph exam where she was found to be dishonest, and there wasn’t a secondary review of the results, the suit says.

Baird, who is in charge of the department’s internal investigations, recommended Nelson be fired. She subsequently was without “receiving notice, hearing, an opportunity to be heard, or a meaningful opportunity to contest the allegations against her,” the suit says.

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Because the Sheriff’s Office reported Nelson had been fired for misconduct to the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, her law enforcement certification — required to work as a police officer — was suspended. The S.C. Law Enforcement Training Division later reinstated that certification and said she hadn’t committed misconduct, the suit says.

The suits contends some other employees, all white men, were not fired nor had their certification suspended after committing more egregious misconduct. The suit alleges:

A lieutenant forged a college diploma and hung it on his wall so he would receive a 3 percent pay increase.

A deputy took suspects’ drivers licenses and license plates and put them on a bulletin board in his garage. He also got into a verbal dispute with a neighbor, the suit says.

A deputy set up traps for his neighbor’s cats then released the animals in a “secluded area far from his home.”

A deputy was arrested for criminal domestic violence and not formally disciplined. He was accused of assaulting his wife previously and was put on six months probation for a “blatant attempt to mislead his supervisor,” the suit says.

A deputy never reported his service weapon was missing. It was later found in a suspect’s home during a drug investigation.

A deputy chief whose service weapon was stolen out of his unlocked, unmarked patrol car did not report the theft in a timely manner.

A deputy had a complaint filed against him by a woman who says he had sex with her while he was on duty.

The unequal punishment and treatment is because of “intentional and purposeful discrimination” by Baird and Tanner, the suit says.

The suit also alleges the Sheriff’s Office gave The Island Packet an “incomplete and shoddy” Internal Affairs report and video of Nelson’s “flawed” polygraph interview in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the newspaper.

The article was published using the “false and misleading documents, causing irreparable damage to (her) reputation in the community,” the suit says.

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Nelson was “a target for discrimination, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule and she was subjected to insults, harassment, and hostility,” the suit said. It also says she’s suffered pain, extreme and severe mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and attorney fees and costs.

The suit asks that Nelson be reinstated to her former position at the Sheriff’s Office, including salary and benefits comparable with the current pay scale. It also asks that the reports of misconduct and of her firing be removed from her files.

The suit also seeks unspecified punitive damages and attorney fees.

The suit requests a trial by jury.

After her October 2017 firing from the Sheriff’s Office, Nelson got a job at the Bluffton Police Department in September 2017.

She was terminated from the Bluffton department in connection with a misconduct issue at the end of October, according to Bluffton Chief Chris Chapmond. No other details about her termination from that department were available as of Friday morning.

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