Deputy who shot, killed dog last year sues sheriff's department

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Bollinger County sheriff's deputy who resigned after shooting and killing a Chihuahua last year is now suing the sheriff's department for employment discrimination, retaliation and Sunshine Law violations after being charged with animal abuse.

In court documents filed Friday, Kelley Barks, 36, of Marble Hill, maintains she put the dog down after it attacked her only because she was instructed to do so by the Bollinger County veterinarian while responding to a domestic dispute.

Barks was initially put on administrative leave following the Feb. 26, 2011, shooting incident, although other male deputies who shot animals were not placed on administrative leave, and on March 15 2011, she was forced to resign, said her attorney, J.P. Clubb of Cape Girardeau.

Barks resignation is considered a constructive discharge. This is an employment law term used when employees resign because their employers' behavior has become so intolerable, or made their life so difficult, that they consider themselves to have been fired, Clubb said.

Court documents also allege she was paid less than her male counterparts, given inferior equipment, and subjected to derogatory comments.

After losing her job, she filed a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. Following its review of the case, she was granted the right to sue her employer Feb. 16.

Just a few days later, Feb. 24, Barks was charged by Bollinger County Prosecutor Stephen Gray with animal abuse just before the one-year statute of limitations expired. She is scheduled to be arraigned on that charge Thursday.

"It's clearly retaliation for the MCHR complaint," Clubb said of the animal abuse charge. "Kelley has been though a lot, but she's committed to clearing her name and making sure this kind of discrimination, defamation, and character assassination stops -- at least in the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department."

A recent decision by prosecutors not to file criminal charges against the mayor or police officers in Chaffee, Mo., after a dog was shot last month also demonstrates that these charges are in retaliation for her claiming that she's been discriminated against, said attorney Laura Clubb.

"Kelley Barks was an official executing her duties and there was an unfortunate event where a dog had to be killed. In Chaffee, we have a case where people who allegedly conspired together to kill a family pet and there are no charges filed," Laura Clubb said.

Barks is seeking compensation for lost wages, damages for embarrassment and humiliation and emotional distress, and an unspecified amount of punitive damages from the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Leo E. McElrath, Bollinger County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Gray and Ronald and Patrick Chadd of Glenallen, Mo., the owners of the Chihuahua.

Her petition alleges gender discrimination, violations of Missouri's open records and meeting act, and retaliation by the sheriff's department and McElrath; civil conspiracy by the sheriff's department, McElrath and Gray; defamation by McElrath, defamation by Ronald and Patrick Chadd.

Shortly after Barks resigned, J.P. Clubb requested copies of nine different types of public records relating to the events surrounding the shooting incident. The petition alleges the sheriff's department failed to respond to the request within three days, as required under Missouri's Sunshine Law. Bollinger County officials later responded that the records were closed due to an active investigation and maintained this position through Feb. 9, J.P. Clubb said. However, a Bollinger County Sheriff's deputy stated under oath Aug. 29 that he had personally conducted the investigation and it was completed.

McElrath said Friday that he wasn't aware of the lawsuit and could not comment on the allegations. Gray was out of the office Friday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

Ronald Chadd, who the petition alleges made false statements to media outlets and law enforcement agencies, said that what he's said was accurate to the best of his knowledge.

He said he offered to go in and get the dog, which weighed about three or four pounds and was about 10 years old, but Barks wouldn't allow him to do so. He said she shot the dog in its crate as he stood outside.

Differing stories

Barks' story of what occurred the night of the shooting differs from what was previously reported by several media outlets, including The Southeast Missourian.

According to her petition, Barks was dispatched to the portable warehouse-type shed where Patrick Chadd was living Feb 26, 2011, after his father, Ronald Chadd, called the sheriff's department for assistance.

Ronald Chadd told police that Patrick Chadd was drunk and high on drugs and brandishing a loaded weapon, court documents state. This was the second time in two days Barks was called to this address for this reason, J.P. Clubb said.

After arresting Patrick Chadd, Barks and a Marble Hill police officer went into the shed to secure loaded weapons that were strewn about including an AK-47, he said.

The shed was described in the petition as dark, squalid and foul-smelling with numerous piles of dog feces on the floor, several dog crates and several dogs.

Barks was attacked and bitten by one of Patrick Chadd's several dogs and in response to the attack she fired a shot and hit the dog but did not kill it, and the dog retreated into the darkness of the shed, court documents state.

She then contacted dispatch to get instructions on how to handle the dog that attacked her, J.P. Clubb said.

"She acted based on the direct instructions of the county veterinarian, in the most humane way possible. The vet told her that the dog had to be put down and that its body should be retained for testing for rabies," J.P. Clubb said.

This was difficult for her, he said, because she loves animals and always has. She and her family have five dogs and four cats, J.P. Clubb said.

Barks petition alleges McElrath, Ronald and Patrick Chadd made false statements to media outlets about her and the events that occurred the night of the shooting.

"She was ridiculed by people in her community and her daughter was teased at school. She applied for job after job, only to be turned down. This incident and the public comments about it have damaged her," J.P. Clubb said.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

Glenallen, Mo.

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