Cox Case Settled — But Questions Remain

by Christina Aanestad, October 28, 2009

Deputy Jason Cox’s long anticipated sexual harass­ment lawsuit against the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office was dismissed late last week “with prejudice.” The terms of the suit’s settlement are as bizarre as the allegations Sheriff Deputy Jason Cox made— claims of workplace sex discrimination, wife swapping, denial of promotion, and on the job drunkenness.

Cox worked as a resident sheriff’s deputy in the Covelo precinct, from 2002 to 2007, with two of his colleagues, Deputies Eric Gore and Brett White under the Supervision of Sheriff’s Sergeant Shannon Barney who was in turn supervised by then-lieutenant (now Sheriff) Tom Allman. White and Gore commit­ted suicide within a year of each other between 2006 and 2007. In the suit, Cox alleged that Barney encour­aged his deputies to engage in wife swapping, but he declined the sexual invitation initiated by his Superior Sergeant Barney. The suit also alleged Barney sexually harassed other colleagues within the Sheriff’s Office, and that he drank on the job.

Despite Cox’s refusal to join in the wife swapping, he claimed his wife had an affair with White while on duty, whom she was training under in 2006. After Cox made the complaints he then faced threats and har­assment from White, according to the suit. Cox also claimed after turning down “sexual overtures” from Barney he received a poor evaluation and was denied promotion.

The suit also named Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, who Cox alleged knew what was going on, but did nothing other than pass over Cox for a promotion. The court threw out the allegations against Allman, according to the County’s cryptic set­tlement statement: “The courts have ruled there is no legal basis for this action to proceed against Sheriff Allman.” The document, obtained by this reporter continues, “Other aspects of the case were deter­mined to require jury resolution.”

Sheriff Allman declined to comment on the settle­ment.

Cox left the Covelo precinct in 2006 and is now a special undercover agent with the K-9 unit. Barney was promoted to Deputy Coroner and transferred to Ukiah. He has since been named the County’s Disas­ter Preparedness Coordinator.

Cox’s personnel concerns may have been addressed in the settlement agreement with Mendo­cino County. The agreement states, “[The County] has addressed personnel concerns in a manner designed to protect [sic] all parties to the action.”

According to County Counsel, Jeanine Nadel, Cox will remain a K-9 Handler/Special Agent and at the discretion of Tom Allman, may serve a third year in the unit when the opportunity arises. But the humble settlement leaves more questions unanswered than settled.

Other terms of the settlement include reimburse­ment of Cox’s attorney fees. The County will reim­burse “a portion” of the legal fees “incurred by Mr. Cox.” According to Nadel, Mendocino County will pay Cox’s attorney, Brian Flahavan of Santa Rosa, a mere $20,000 for his legal services.  Flahavan and Cox did not return calls by press time.

All in all, the County’s settlement states the settle­ment is “in the best interests of the citizens of the County of Mendocino which each serve.” But, the set­tlement leaves a number of questions unaddressed: Were the allegations so unfounded they did not con­stitute a case? Did the parties involved reconcile dif­ferences? Did the process of deposition and discovery uncover compromising information on Cox that weakened his case?

Jason Cox Vs. Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office was scheduled to begin trial October on 26th, but since both parties agreed to this settlement, the depo­sitions of Sergeant Shannon Barney, Tom Allman, Jason Cox will not be disclosed to discover whatever truths about alleged misconduct and abuse of power within the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office there may be. Therefore, the people of Mendocino County will not know whether this settlement was really in their best interest.

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