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Wood County Sheriff, Commission named in lawsuit by former deputy

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 3:20 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2021 at 4:41 PM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens, his department, and the Wood County Commission are being sued by a former deputy over alleged behavior by Sheriff Stephens.

The actual complaint cites “negligent training,” violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act, and violations of the West Virginia Whistleblower Law.

In the statement of facts, the lawsuit goes over behavior witnessed by the plaintiff, Della Matheny, during her time as a Wood County Deputy and during her time in home confinement and as a correctional officer.

The lawsuit says Stephens was the director of the home confinement program when Matheny worked there and made inappropriate comments about her appearance.

It also says Stephens was overly interested in Matheny’s personal life and had inappropriate contact with her ex-husband about her sex life.

In 2013, Matheny became a deputy sheriff.

Stephens became sheriff in 2017.

During her time as a deputy, Matheny claims to have witnessed inappropriate behavior by Sheriff Stephens and the fallout brought on by a fellow deputy’s complaint around March of 2020.

That complaint, the lawsuit says, was made by Deputy Tasha Hewitt after she informed the sheriff a consensual relationship she had entered with another deputy.

Matheny claims that Stephens had been “infatuated” with Hewitt and became very upset when he learned of Hewitt’s relationship with the other deputy.

The lawsuit says Matheny learned Stephens was upset with the relationship because he told her about it while at the scene of a fatal fire in 2019.

The suit says Stephens pounded his fists against a steering wheel and called Hewitt a “whore,” while discussing the situation with Matheny.

When Hewitt complained about the situation, the Wood County Commission hired an outside law firm to conduct an internal investigation.

Matheny was interviewed as a part of that investigation and claims Stephens retaliated against her for her involvement.

In addition, she says the investigators recommended to county commissioners that the sheriff’s department undergo sexual harassment training.

Matheny claims that training never happened.

She says she left the sheriff’s department in July, 2021 over the hostile working conditions.

County Commission President Blair Couch said he couldn’t comment without seeing the lawsuit, saying “we won’t be able to comment on it until it is reviewed.”

Wood County Prosecutor Pat Lefebure said he cannot comment on personnel matters.

We will continue to reach out to Sheriff Stephens for comment, but so far have not been able to reach him.

You can read the full lawsuit here.

Report reveals further details of complaint against sheriff

WTAP has obtained a summary report that outlines the internal investigation into Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens mentioned in the lawsuit filed by Della Matheny.

The report is addressed to the Wood County Commission from Charles Bailey and Kelly Morgan of Bailey & Wyant P.L.L.C.

The report is dated March 30, 2020 and was confirmed by a partner of the law firm that produced it.

The report, which you can read below, was done after allegations made by Deputy Sheriff Tasha Hewitt.

Sheriff Stephens denied the allegations.

Hewitt claims the sheriff made inappropriate comments about her butt, touched her leg inappropriately, threatened to fire her over an affair she was having with another deputy, interfered with her divorce, and called her a “whore.”

It later discusses other claims made by other deputies during the investigation that suggest a hostile work environment.

“Nearly every witness provided details of Sheriff Stephens yelling at everyone, voicing insults to both sexes, and unnecessary tension and/or stress in the office,” the report says. “Witnesses confirmed seeing or hearing about unwelcomed physical contact by Sheriff Stephens with female employees, as well as overall possessive behavior with most of the women in the office.”

Investigators concluded Hewitt’s claims had potential credibility, but were not able to independently confirm all of the complaints.

In response to the investigation, attorneys recommended the Wood County Commission pay for sexual harassment and hostile work environment training.

Public records also show a July 2020 payout to Tasha Hewitt for $20,000. The county commission’s insurance covered part of that payout, but the county had a $15,000 deductible.

In addition, the county was billed at least twice by the investigating law firm. Once for $13,920.50 and once for $8,670.50.

On October 12, 2021 WTAP was given a letter after the Wood County Deputy Sheriff’s Association returned a vote of “No Confidence” for Sheriff Steve Stephens. The letter, which you can find a link to below, describes the behavior of a “tyrant.”

A deputy who was not named in the summary report or in the letter said there was no workplace harassment training until the week of October 18, 2021.

The WCDSA’s letter was also given to Sheriff Stephens and the Wood County Commission on the same day.

On October 20, a deputy who was not named in the summary report, said the behavior Stephens is accused of in the 2020 report is similar to the behavior that prompted the WCDSA’s letter and vote of no confidence.

WTAP reached out to Stephens for comment, but could not reach him.

Wood County Prosecutor Pat Lefebure said he was unable to comment on personnel matters.

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