A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Loudoun County sheriff's deputy who claimed that he was demoted because he criticized Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson's handling of an allegation that another deputy had sexually assaulted an inmate.
U.S. District Chief Judge Claude M. Hilton found that Deputy Randall S. Quesenberry's free speech rights were not violated because Quesenberry's complaints about Simpson were about "private matters," not statements of "public concern."
"Statements made out of frustration and anger with management policies are generally not considered matters of public concern," Hilton wrote in his opinion April 11. "In this case, [Quesenberry's] statements were private matters relating to his employment, and simply involve a dispute on the proper method for conducting an investigation, which is something left to the Sheriff's discretion."
Hilton gave Quesenberry and his attorneys 14 days to file an amended complaint. Quesenberry did not return a call for comment. His attorney, Elaine Bredehoft, could not be reached immediately.
Simpson said he was pleased with the ruling. "I knew there was no merit to the allegations to start with, and that's why we filed the motion to dismiss, and the court obviously agreed," Simpson said in a statement.
Quesenberry, who formerly headed the county's jail and now works as a patrol sergeant, said in his lawsuit that he became concerned about the investigation of an alleged assault on a female inmate in 2001 when Simpson overruled his order to have crime scene technicians collect evidence immediately. In the suit, Quesenberry said Simpson decided that investigators should be brought in the next day.
According to the suit, Quesenberry took his concerns to Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson (R) and then was demoted "in retaliation."
In his nine-page opinion, Hilton said Quesenberry has no valid claim that his due-process rights were violated. Hilton said Virginia deputies are at-will employees who serve at the discretion of the sheriff.
Hilton also denied Quesenberry's claim that he was defamed when a newspaper reporter asked Simpson whether Quesenberry's demotion was connected to the sexual assault case and Simpson replied, "I'm not going to connect the two."
"This statement contains no false facts, either express or implied," Hilton wrote.