Two former Denton County sheriff’s employees, including the handler of the police dog Chico that escaped and was later shot, have sued Sheriff William Travis and the county over their termination.
Soon after he took office Jan. 1, Travis fired some of the employees who had worked under former Sheriff Benny Parkey.
Plaintiffs Matthew Rollins and Carl Garner claim the Civil Service Commission, which county commissioners established late last year, should have protected their jobs.
The defendants in the case claim the commission has yet to fully set up its bylaws and therefore offers no protection.
Travis, sworn in Jan. 1, said he was under the impression the Denton County Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission wasn’t official until its bylaws had been passed.
“If you aren’t civil service, you are still employed at-will; nothing was passed until last month, with the remainder hopefully next week,” said Travis, who first saw the lawsuit Thursday.
The plaintiffs have employed attorney John Snider from Lyon, Gorsky, Haring & Gilbert LLP of Dallas.
“The law is clear on this. The sheriff could not unilaterally decide he did not want to employ these guys when he took office,” Snider said.
According to the plaintiffs’ petition, neither Rollins’ nor Garner’s terminations were for any pending or final disciplinary action or documented performance problems. When the men inquired about civil service, they were told Lisa Ulrich, the civil service coordinator who also was named in the suit, denied a request to put the matter on a Civil Service Commission meeting agenda, saying the civil service system does not exist, according to the suit.
Ulrich could not be reached for comment Friday.
Rollins and Garner seek to have their jobs and pay reinstated, full back pay and restoration of seniority and benefits as well as legal and court costs paid.
Snider has also filed a temporary restraining order to restore his clients’ job status, at least in the short term.
“People need income and a job to support their families,” Snider said. “This is the first step toward trying to restore their career. I think we will prevail.”
County Judge Mary Horn declined to comment on the case since it is pending litigation.
Chico, the 4-year-old Belgian Malinois, went missing from his handler, Rollins, on Dec. 20 when a cold front and high winds blew a gate open on Rollins’ property in Collin County.
A report was filed with the Wylie Police Department when Chico was discovered missing.
According to sheriff’s officials, Chico was found dead after a property owner shot and killed him the next day, saying he was a threat to his chickens.
The property owner did not face charges since he has a right to defend his livestock, officials said.
Rollins, according to the sheriff’s office at the time of the incident, was not fired because of the K-9 officer’s death.
Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck said the lawsuit petition will be discussed in executive session next Tuesday and an attorney to represent the county should be decided then.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875. His e-mail address is blewis@dentonrc.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is mgray@