An attorney for a former sheriff's deputy said in court Tuesday that Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson used the disparaging phrase "Limp, Lame and Lazy" in a joking manner when referring to a list of injured deputies unable to work.
Stephen Murphy, who is representing Dennis Wallace, said in court that Christianson's testimony about the degrading title for the list of deputies best illustrates how the Sheriff's Department viewed injured deputies such as Wallace.
"(Christianson) admitted using that term as comic relief," Murphy said about Christianson's testimony. "He shouldn't be allowed to get away with it."
Wallace is suing the county, claiming Christianson forced him out of his job after Wallace suffered injuries on duty. His attorney argues that the sheriff discriminated against his client.
Velma Lim, an attorney representing the county, argued that the civil case is about Wallace's inability to work as a deputy in any capacity after suffering on-the-job injuries. She said Wallace no longer can do the job without putting himself, his co-workers and the public at risk.
"This case is all about safety first," Lim argued in court. "That is the mantra throughout this case."
The attorneys presented their closing arguments to the jury Tuesday in the civil trial in Stanislaus County Superior Court. The jury of seven men and five women began deliberating about 3:20 p.m. Tuesday and were expected to continue this morning.
Lim told the jurors that Christianson used the "Limp, Lame and Lazy" remark out of frustration after three years of budget cuts that have forced downsizing at the department. "He said it was quite a challenge to schedule deputies to provide adequate coverage," Lim said about the sheriff's testimony.
Sheriff's Lt. Tori Hughes, who is the police chief in Patterson, testified Tuesday that she has heard others use the disparaging title many times and has heard Christianson frequently refer to the "Limp, Lame and Lazy" list.
Hughes testified that she was offended by the term, but Lim argued that neither Hughes nor anyone else filed a complaint with the county. The attorney said the term was used for comic relief, not to insult deputies.
Former Sheriff Les Weidman also testified in the civil trial. The plaintiff's attorney compared Weidman and Christianson for the jury. He said Weidman testified that he was always mindful of the laws that protect employees when dealing with injured deputies and considered the taxpayers' investment in the deputies' training. "And he was not going to throw them out the door if they got injured," Murphy said about Weidman.
On the other hand, Murphy told the jury, Christianson had an expectation that all his deputies should be able to perform all the duties, no matter what their assignment was. "No matter what (the deputies) did, he had this blanket policy," Murphy said about Christianson.
Wallace says he is capable of working as a patrol deputy after surgeries to repair the injuries and rehabilitation to strengthen his body. He alleges that the sheriff forced him out of his job, but has found work within the department for other injured deputies.
Wallace has been on unpaid leave since January 2011, when sheriff's officials told him he no longer could handle the duties of a deputy, based on a doctor's report.
Lim told the jury that the county continues to look for an appropriate job that would allow Wallace to work under medical restrictions. The plaintiff, however, testified that he wants a job that will provide him the same retirement benefits as a sworn deputy.
Lim argued that the county has offered Wallace a job as a welfare fraud investigator that he has not accepted. The county also has informed him of recent job opportunities as a probation officer and as an investigator with the district attorney's office.
"There's no discrimination here," Lim said to the jury.
Nine out of the 12 jurors must agree on a verdict. If the jury decides in favor of Wallace, the jurors will have to determine how much money he should be awarded.
Murphy told the jury that Wallace has lost $223,000 in income and will lose $1.9 million in future earnings, had he been allowed to resume his duties as a deputy. He also said the county should be responsible for more than $2 million for emotional stress and mental suffering.
"This is more than a job to him, this is more than a paycheck," Murphy said about the distress Wallace has suffered since he was sent home by the Sheriff's Department in January 2011. "This is what he loved to do."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.