Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Kelly

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A federal lawsuit has been filed by a now-reinstated Athens County sheriff's deputy who claims he was fired in violation of his First Amendment rights.

Shannon Sheridan filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court, asking for "lost wages, compensatory damages, reinstatement and/or front pay, punitive damages, attorney's fees and costs" from suspended Sheriff Patrick Kelly.

Sheridan, through Cleveland attorney Mark P. Herron, claims that Kelly, in his individual and official capacities, fired him because he told potential voters that he believed Kelly lacked "the ethical and moral standards" necessary be sheriff, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit states that Sheridan held that opinion for several reasons, including that Kelly allegedly interfered with an investigation involving a relative and had been incarcerated for failure to pay court-ordered support.

Sheridan was fired by Kelly in 2012 after accusations of insubordination and sexual harassment were leveled against Sheridan, according to previous Messenger reporting. Sheridan then appealed his termination to the Ohio State Personnel Board of Review, where a panel ordered that he be reinstated with limited back pay.

Throughout the appeal, Kelly maintained that he fired Sheridan because of his record as a deputy and because of accusations against Sheridan by other deputies.

Kelly declined to comment on the lawsuit when The Messenger contacted him on Tuesday, referring questions to county attorneys. He continued to deny, though, that he had fired Sheridan for any other reason except his performance as a member of the Athens County Sheriff's Office.

"We made every effort to help him become a good deputy and he didn't want that," Kelly said.

Sheridan was reinstated by Interim Sheriff Rodney Smith in May, after Kelly had been suspended because of a criminal case against him. Kelly remains on paid suspension and faces trial in September on a 25-count indictment charging him with theft, money laundering, engaging in corrupt activity and other charges.

Sheridan's lawsuit asserts that he was fired because he had expressed his political opinion of Kelly.

"Therefore … Kelly displayed reckless and callous indifference to the clearly established constitutional rights of … Shannon Sheridan," Herron wrote in the complaint.

The attorney also argued that Kelly should not receive immunity from liability because of his position as a government official.

The county has not been served with the lawsuit, according to County Commissioner Lenny Eliason, but when they do receive it, it will be forwarded to the county insurance company.

Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said he would only be involved in the case in order to forward appropriate documents to representatives of the insurance company.

"The insurance company would represent (Kelly, in his official capacity), and they might, for a short time, decide to represent him in his individual capacity, but that's up to them," Blackburn said.

Attempts to contact Herron were unsuccessful as of Tuesday afternoon.