Six former McLennan County sheriff’s deputies are suing the county and newly sworn-in Sheriff Parnell McNamara, saying they were fired because they publicly supported McNamara’s primary election opponent, their attorney said Wednesday.
The deputies claim McNamara targeted them for termination in December because they campaigned for McNamara’s Republican primary rival, former Chief Deputy Randy Plemons, last spring.
Dallas attorney Don Tittle said he filed the lawsuit electronically late Wednesday in federal court in Waco and provided a copy to the Tribune-Herald .
The lawsuit seeks compensation for lost wages and benefits, damage to reputation, and “severe emotional suffering and mental anguish” in an amount a jury would determine.
McNamara was unaware of the lawsuit when reached Wednesday. He denied targeting Plemons’ supporters when he reorganized the department upon taking office Jan. 1.
“These people were not terminated because of their political affiliation,” McNamara said. “They were part of the reorganization of the sheriff’s department, and they just weren’t part of the new administration. We kept a lot of Plemons’ supporters on our team. It’s working out fine.”
County commissioners approved McNamara’s requested personnel and budget changes Jan. 2, including a new administrative team and salary adjustments for multiple positions.
County Judge Scott Felton, who leads the court, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
McLennan County sheriff’s deputies have no civil service protection and serve at the sheriff’s will.
Courts have ruled that sheriffs in Texas have broad discretion in choosing employees and can fire them with or without cause, absent contractual limitations, as long as the decisions aren’t politically motivated.
Tittle, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said McNamara crossed that line and violated the First Amendment by firing the deputies for political activities, despite long and accomplished careers with the sheriff’s office.
“I don’t think there’s a complaint that exists against any one of them,” Tittle said.
The lawsuit names the plaintiffs as Jimmie Channon, W. Derick Johnson, William L. McKamey, Anthony W. McRae, J.C. Riggs and Norman Wade.
Together, they have a combined 114 years of experience and “outstanding” performance and service records as sheriff’s deputies, the lawsuit states.
The six former deputies participated in Plemons’ campaign by distributing yard signs, canvassing neighborhoods door to door and attending fundraisers and other events, according to the lawsuit.
McNamara notified them Dec. 17 that their employment would end Dec. 31 but provided no explanation, the lawsuit states.
“Through the guise of ‘reorganization,’ defendant McNamara has engaged in a carefully orchestrated plan of demoting and discharging numerous employees of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department who supported Plemons’ campaign, and has replaced them with individuals who supported his own campaign for sheriff,” the lawsuit states. “In many instances, the individuals demoted or discharged had substantially more experience than their successors.”
Asked if he was aware the plaintiffs supported Plemons, McNamara said, “Maybe so.”
But he said he reorganized the department to accomplish priorities he campaigned on, including the creation of a narcotics unit. In doing so, McNamara said he kept and promoted some of Plemons’ supporters, including Mike Garrett, president of the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Association of McLennan County, who was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant.
A retired deputy U.S. marshal, McNamara beat two opponents Nov. 6 for the right to replace Sheriff Larry Lynch, who did not seek re-election. Lynch endorsed Plemons in his contentious primary race against McNamara in May, which included attacks on McNamara’s past and credentials.