Attorney: sheriff's employees firings politically motivated - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Attorney: sheriff's employees firings politically motivated

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MACON COUNTY, TN (WSMV) -

The attorney for four employees in the Macon County sheriff's department said their termination is a direct result of their families' participation in the sheriff's opponent's campaign.

The termination of school resource officers Phil Harper and Joshua Smith and correctional officers Jimmy Hardin and Richard Keller came Aug. 8, the day after sheriff Mark Gammons won re-election.

The four received letters with their paychecks, thanking them for their service and stating their services are no longer needed.

"They (the four employees) did not participate in his (Gammons') campaign, they chose to remain neutral. They have family members who took part in sheriff gammons' opponents' campaign," said Roland Mumford, the employees' attorney.

Our calls and email to Gammons on Saturday evening were not returned by our deadline.

The firings come just a month after a Channel 4 I-Team investigation that revealed audio of a speech that the sheriff gave to his staff March 21.

That audio raises questions if the sheriff was telling his employees: support my campaign, or lose your job.

At one point in the audio, the sheriff can be heard saying, "If you can't support me, that's fine. It's hard to support you and sign your check."

In another statement, he said, "You try to take food out of my mouth, why should I not worry about taking food out of your mouth."

In late June, Gammons spoke with the Channel 4 I-Team

"Somebody could take that as you saying, if you're not going to vote for me, then you can leave," asked chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.

"No, what I meant by that is, I wipe the slate clean, let's move forward. Let's be good. But the point i had, if you leave this meeting and you don't feel like you want to be here, or I've done something wrong to you, then yeah, I would be glad to give you whatever you need if you don't want to work here. But it wasn't to threaten them and saying, go do this for me or I'm going to fire you. That was no intention," Gammons said.

 Mumford said it's no coincidence that the firing came on the first day of the sheriff's new term.

 "Sheriff Gammons' behavior was completely illegal and unethical and inappropriate," said Mumford.

 Gammons told the Channel 4 I-Team in June that the reason he made the speech was to tell his employees not to campaign for his opponent during work hours.

 "It does raise questions, if you're intimidating your employees," Finley asked.

 "I've never intimidated, I've been over backwards to help an employee. But at some point in time you've got to be a boss. You have to let people know the rules," Gammons.

 In the audio, Gammons can be heard saying this to his employees about not voting for him in the election, "Not going to fire you for doing that. Promise."

 Mumford said his clients believe their family's political actions cost them their jobs.

"They're very upset about the retaliation perpetrated upon them," Mumford said.

 Mumford said he intends to file a lawsuit to try and get his clients their jobs back, and supporters of the employees plan to go to the Macon county commissioners meeting Monday night to voice their concerns.

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