Lawsuit alleges bullying in sheriff's office

Serious allegations made by deputy over demeaning treatment and 'code of silence'

awileman@sierrastar.comJuly 8, 2014 

A lawsuit filed by current Madera County Sheriff Deputy Ian Roth alleges years of harassment and misconduct from within the Madera County Sheriffs Office.

Allegations against the sheriffs office include accusations of both physical and verbal altercations stemming from incidents as far back as of December, 2005.

The complaint, filed on Dec. 10, 2013, states the sheriff's office has a history of "condoning inappropriate, abusive and harassing behaviors" on the plaintiff, Roth, including degrading comments about his wife, weight, and religious denomination.

The lawsuit claims Roth's supervisors allowed continued harassment and alleges after Roth filed official complaints, he faced difficulty with promotion and further discrimination.

Roth's complaint also alleges the department developed a "code of silence" and "acquiescence" that began to develop between deputies in order to protect other employees within the department.

Lawrance Bohm, of Bohm Law Group, who is representing Roth, says the harassment is of "astronomical proportions" and is one of the worst cases he has ever seen inside a county department.

"The only thing worse they could have done was shoot him, or beat him up physically. They have done everything possible to make this man's life a living hell," Bohm said.

Roth, who was hired in December of 2005, as a Bailiff for Madera County Superior Court under Judge Jennifer Detjen, said the harassment began when he and Detjen began working out with one another at the same gym.

It was then Roth claims he first encountered one of the defendants, Sergeant Michael Pace, during his morning workout routines.

Roth claims Pace began harassing him and accused Roth of "engaging in sexual relations with the judge." According to Roth, Pace went as far as to start rumors about the two and asking on several occasions "how is she in bed?"

According to the lawsuit, in 2007, the Bailiffs Unit and the Patrol Division merged together forming one department which allowed deputies the ability to rotate between jobs. In 2007 Roth, hoping to promote himself, elected to rotate and began patrolling and training for the position.

The claim states Roth was assigned by Sgt. Majeski to receive his field training from Pace. Roth claims, almost immediately Pace began again harassing him, referring to Roth as "fat Jew" and stating that the sheriff's office was a "Christian company," that "Jesus is King" and that the "Sabbath Day is on Sunday not Friday."

According to the claim, Roth says Pace accused him of being a "typical Jew, short, fat and with squiggly hair down to the side of his face."

After several incidences Roth told a fellow deputy that he believed Sergeant Pace was a bad supervisor because of his consistent harassment and the way he treated Roth.

The lawsuit claims a few days later, while at dinner, and in front of several other deputies, Pace approached Roth and asked "Do you have a problem with me?" and proceeded to threaten Roth with physical repercussions. According to Roth, Pace challenged Roth to a physical altercation. Roth says Pace told him, "Let's go outside and handle this like men."

In the report Roth says he did his best to defuse the situation by denying the allegations out of fear of the ramifications to standing up against Roth. The situation become so grim that according to court documents, filed on the defendants behalf, Roth left the dinner soon after.

The suit also accuses Pace of showing pornographic videos of women doing a striptease and other "inappropriate" images when there were no calls for service.

Roth claims the harassment escalated upon the birth of his daughter in 2009 when Pace told Roth, again in front of other deputies, that his sons were going to have intercourse with his daughter and "run through your little girl in the back seat of my car."

In addition to the accusations and obscene behavior Pace would conduct games with the deputies inside the department, including making Roth "deep throat" a banana in front of his peers and shoving his genitalia in Roth's face. For years Roth says Pace would repeat the story of the banana to colleagues.

In the claim Roth says in December 2011, Pace escalated his harassment in the form of physical abuse.

After a small confrontation in regards to a missed call during Roth's shift, in which Roth claims he missed because his computer went down, the suit claims Pace slapped Roth with his right hand across Roth's left cheek and then laughed at him.

Following the altercations, the lawsuit says Roth immediately went to his superior, Majeski's office, who was on the phone at the time and told Roth to hold on, however, Deputy Roth was too upset and left the workplace. The following day Roth approached Majeski and asked him not to do anything about the incident because, like many of the others, anytime Pace was involved, nothing would be done. Something Majeski supposably agreed with. Roth also feared retaliation and being labeled a "rat."

According to the court document, it wasn't until later that Majeski texted him and informed Roth he "couldn't sleep" and needed to file the report. The report was filed with Salvador, the current undersheriff. Salvador conducted an investigation between December 2011, and January 2012.

During the investigation, Roth claims Lieutenant Salvador told Roth that he searched the county computer hard-drives and located derogatory messages on them from Pace regarding deputy Roth and his religion.

It is unknown when, but following the investigation Pace was demoted to deputy for a short time and Roth was told to stay away from the sheriffs's office while Pace gave his morning briefing.

Deputy Roth was required to wait for roughly an hour before he was contacted by Sergeant Majeski and told he could proceed to work now that Pace was out of the office.

Harassment allegedly continued in the form of both physical and mental altercations in which Pace would continuously harass Roth to the point that Roth claims he had several panic attacks. In September 2012, Roth filed for stress leave and used his own built up time to take a leave of absence.

In the Summer of 2013, Pace was re-promoted to Sergeant and in March Deputy Roth filed a formal complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and received a "Right to Sue Letter."

On May 1, 2013, Roth received his first evaluation in five years and received good reviews and excelled in all requirements.

In October 2013, Roth was placed in a quarterly range training schedule with Pace. Upon notification, Deputy Roth immediately emailed the county and asked to be placed into a different group showing clear acknowledgment that there was a formal problem between the two.

Salvador said because of the nature of the case and the sensitivity he was unable to make any comments but in a article in the Madera Tribune was quoted saying he did everything he was trained to do when investigating the case.

"I did what I was supposed to do Salvador said. "And as Sheriff I'll do what were supposed to do and hold people to the same high standard that I already expect."

Bohm, said he handles many government whistle blowing cases in government, but cases involving peace officers are the most challenging because you are accusing those who swore to protect and serve of doing things that conflict with the credo to protect and serve.

"The lack of administrative effort and oversight to address these issues is appalling," Bohm said. "I have heard nothing from the county in regards to resolving the case."

Bohm made it clear that his client wants nothing more than justice and hopes those who should will be held responsible for their actions.

"One of the things that Mr. Roth wants out of this case is someone to take responsibility and change," Bohm said. "The most effective instrument for bringing about change is public disgrace. It's not that he wants to disgrace the department but their actions are disgraceful."

The first settlement conference is scheduled for July 2015. Meanwhile, both Roth and Pace remain employees of the Madera County Sheriff's Office.

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