'Limp, lame' report on hold until Stanislaus deputy's bias trial wraps

gstapley@modbee.comMay 21, 2013 

    alternate textGarth Stapley
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: Regional water, growth, land-use and transportation; civil law, real estate fraud and special projects
    Bio: In his 19 years with The Bee, Garth Stapley has focused on city and county government
    E-mail: gstapley@modbee.com

— Stanislaus County officials won't say what they found while investigating the Sheriff's Department's former habit of referring to "limp, lame and lazy" employees until a deputy's discrimination trial ends.

Dennis Wallace's lawsuit last year exposed the disparaging phrase, prompting a public apology from Sheriff Adam Christianson and the investigation by a Fresno attorney, overseen by county administrators.

The probe wrapped up months ago, and County Counsel John Doering in January said a sanitized version would become public in a few weeks.

Deadlock in August

But Wallace's court case, which was not resolved when jurors deadlocked in August, restarted with a new jury last week. It's expected to stretch at least into next week, with Christianson slated to testify Thursday.

"We don't want to litigate that aspect of the trial in the newspaper," Doering said Tuesday. "When the trial is over, I'll be glad to sit down and discuss it further."

Doering said findings of the probe were "not explosive." It aimed to "help us ensure that employees are not subjected to language or conduct that is offensive or discriminatory," the sheriff wrote when it was launched in a note to staff.

The county faces other lawsuits from two former deputies who say they were dismissed after being injured.

Wallace, 50, says he was forced out without interaction that might have accommodated various injuries. He was fit enough for strenuous patrol duty, his camp contends, and he was reinstated in January after clearing a physical.

He seeks two years of lost wages and benefits estimated at $243,000.

Weidman, undersheriff

Witnesses include retired Sheriff Les Weidman, who testified last week, and Christianson's second-in-command, Undersheriff Mick Hardenbrook, whose testimony Tuesday was interrupted to accommodate other witnesses. Hardenbrook has represented the department at the trial and is expected to be on hand other days.

Manuel Martinez, a serge-ant who retired eight weeks ago, testified Tuesday that he was on a panel that interviewed candidates for a less physically demanding position than patrol. Wallace was among nine or 10 finalists, Martinez said, but was passed by and eventually let go.

The county made room for Martinez despite carpal tunnel surgeries on both wrists, he said. But a serge-ant's duties are not the same as a deputy's, he agreed when questioned by the county's attorney, Morin Jacob.

The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. today in Department 23 on the fourth floor of the City Tower building, 801 10th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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