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2011-03-10

Sharp's lawsuit settled 'amicably'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A civil lawsuit filed in August 2009 by former Bandera County Sheriff's Office Deputy Scott Sharp against Sheriff Weldon Tucker and the county recently ended with a confidential financial settlement, according to County Judge Richard Evans. Also undisclosed are other terms of the settlement.
Previously, the Bandera County Courier reported that Federal Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth had given both parties until Monday, Feb. 28, to reach an agreement or the combination wrongful termination-whistleblower case would go to trial.
Evans said the settlement came at the advice of an attorney and risk management firm assigned to Bandera County from the Texas Association of Counties. The insurer apparently recommended that the county settle the lawsuit.
Evans added the settlement was reached after an all day negotiation session - "plus about a year of the lawyers' discovery and disclosure." He characterized the final settlement figure as "amicable" to the parties involved.
In January, Hudspeth granted a joint motion from attorneys representing both Sharp and Bandera County to postpone the civil trial to allow both Sharp and the defendants time to "finalize the amicable resolution of all claims ... on or before Friday, Feb. 28." Prior to the continuance, the civil case was set for trial on Monday, Feb. 7, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division.
Sharp's lawsuit contented that Tucker had unlawfully terminated him in May 2009 for "reporting acts of corruption and wrongdoing" within the sheriff's department. For his part, Tucker maintained Sharp had been dishonorably discharged for insubordination and violations of departmental policies.
Immediately after his termination, Sharp said, "I am going to fight this with everything I have. A dishonorable discharge would effectively end my law enforcement career."
His determination paid off. In April 2010, State Office of Administrative Law Judge Michael J. Borkland ruled that Sharp had not committed alleged violations that had included untruthfulness and insubordination as Tucker had charged.
As a result of Borkland's findings, Sharp's F-5 Report was changed from a dishonorable discharge to "honorably discharged, terminated at will." An attachment to Sharp's F-5 Report will also state: "Unsubstantiated allegations regarding violations of office policies and insubordination."
Adding insult to injury, Borkland's report also called Sharp "a more credible witness" than Tucker.
According to Sharp's attorney, Grace Bellomy of Boerne, the recently settled lawsuit contained a litany of grievances against Tucker, including a claim that the sheriff had repeatedly used a donated county water rescue boat for personal recreation, which Tucker denied on several occasions.
Additionally, the lawsuit contended that other Bandera County elected officials were aware that corruption, intimidation and favoritism existed within the BCSO and chose not to address those issues.
For his part, Evans seemed grateful that this litigation was over at last, noting, "It is done; it's fini."
However, coming down the pipeline, is a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by former BCSO Deputy Mario Hernandez against Bandera County. Hernandez also claims he was terminated after being observed photographing the county rescue boat that was being kept at Tucker's residence on a private ranch in Tarpley.
Also, looming is the sheriff's criminal trial for abuse of official capacity - which stemmed from his supposed personal use of the rescue boat. Tucker's trial is slated to begin at 9 am, Monday, April 4, in 216th District Court in the Bandera County Justice Center on Highway 173 North with Administrative Judge Stephen Ables presiding.