The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Jury denies whistleblower claim

Attorney says appeal is coming

 

April 28, 2018

CLOVIS - A Clovis jury ruled Friday that Curry County was not liable for damages sought by a former jail officer in a whistleblower civil suit filed more than three years ago.

Weston Peasnall sought more than $200,000 from the county due to lost wages and "pain and suffering," according to his attorney Eric Dixon. The Whistleblower Protection act complaint alleged that Peasnall was demoted and ultimately harassed into resigning his position at the Curry County Adult Detention Center in August 2014 "for his refusal to cover up" details of an incident of alleged excessive force on an inmate the month before.

Dixon also represents that former inmate, Petra Youngquist, in another civil suit against the county still on its way to trial. He said two jail guards directly involved in the inmate search were already "disciplined for excessive use of force," but that Youngquist suit still seeks punitive damages.

Curry County Manager Lance Pyle declined comment on the pending litigation.

Many details of the alleged unlawful search were specifically excluded from evidence and testimony in the three-day Peasnall trial this week, based on defendant motions last week and Tuesday approved by Judge Donna Mowrer.

Defense attorney Brian Evans told Mowrer he wanted the trial to focus only on the complaint in the suit - that Peasnall attempted to modify a report on the incident, was denied permission to do so and faced ensuing retaliation.

The jury deliberated about an hour and a half Friday afternoon and returned their special verdict finding that Peasnall did in fact "communicate about an action or failure to act that constituted an unlawful practice," but that his request to change his report was not "the reason" for his demotion.

Dixon contended Peasnall's communication with his jail superiors need not have been "the" reason, but only "a" reason for demotion, and said he intends to file notice with the Court of Appeals.

"The county is going to be held accountable. ... This is just the beginning," he told The News, noting the forthcoming appeal is "probably a two-year process."

Evans said he was "pleased with the verdict and appreciate(d) the jury's service."

Pyle said the same, adding his support for jail and other county staff.

"The county has very good employees and we took the position that we were going to stand behind our employees and defend this claim in court," he told The News. "The jurors' decision verifies the county's belief that its employees followed the proper policies, rules and regulations."

 

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