Former Wood County Sheriff’s Deputy Wins Sanctions in Lawsuit Against County Commission and Sheriff’s Department

PARKERSBURG, West Virginia – A former Wood County Sheriff’s deputy has won a motion for sanctions against the County Commission and Sheriff’s Department for failing to provide requested materials for review in her lawsuit. Pleasants County Circuit Judge Timothy L. Sweeney, who is presiding over the case, also ruled that an adverse jury instruction will be allowed regarding lost or destroyed materials.

The legal battle between former Wood County Sheriff’s Sgt. Della Matheny and the commission, department, and former Sheriff Steve Stephens began in November. Matheny alleges that Stephens harassed female employees, created a hostile work environment, and violated employment laws. She claims that he referred to a fellow deputy as a “whore” and engaged in retaliatory acts against her, leading to her resignation.

Stephens denies the accusations and states that his employment practices were in accordance with state and federal laws. However, Matheny’s attorneys argue that officials have concealed, destroyed, and refused to search for critical evidence throughout the discovery process.

Based on the court’s orders, the commission and sheriff’s department must provide Matheny with a full copy of the investigative report conducted by law firm Bailey & Wyant. While a summary report has been provided, the existence of a larger report was revealed during a deposition. The court ruled that the comprehensive report cannot be withheld.

Additionally, the court granted Matheny’s motion for sanctions due to the loss of data on a county-issued cell phone belonging to former Chief Deputy Robert Sims. An adverse jury instruction will inform the jury that evidence detrimental to the defendants was lost or destroyed.

During depositions, IT employees from the sheriff’s department admitted to never searching the email inboxes of Sims and others, despite clear requests to do so. The court found this to be a case of discovery misconduct and deemed an additional adverse jury instruction appropriate.

The Wood County Commission and Sheriff’s Department have been ordered to produce the comprehensive investigative report and related communications within seven days.

The trial, scheduled to begin on July 29, will be overseen by Judge Sweeney after all three Wood County Circuit Court judges recused themselves due to potential conflicts of interest.