Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct how the Herald Democrat obtained the settlement documents.
Sherman paid out more than $400,000 last year as part of settlements of four lawsuits brought by former and current city employees.
While the total settlements for those four men — former Police Chief Otis Henry, Assistant Chief Stephen Dean, former Assistant Director of Public Works Jonathan Kirksey and former Director of Human Resources Wayne Blackwell — totaled $872,981.11, Sherman's insurer, Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool, paid the majority of that money.
“During the course of 2018, the City agreed to settle various lawsuits, all of which originated in 2017,” City Manager Robby Hefton said in a written statement. “The combined cost of those settlements to the City was $416,608 with the remaining amounts coming from the City's insurer. The terms of the agreements prevent the City from discussing the details of the cases. City leadership continues to focus on the unprecedented growth and prosperity now enjoyed by our community and on ensuring that Sherman is a great place to live, work, and play.”
The Herald Democrat recently obtained copies of the settlement documents for those four cases through an open records request through the Freedom of Information Act. Those documents show the total settlements for Henry was $600,000, Dean was $130,981.11, Kirksey was $112,000 and Blackwell was $30,000. TML paid for the entirety of Blackwell’s settlement and 50 percent or less for the other three settlements.
As part of his settlement with Sherman, Dean was promoted back to the position of Sherman Police Department assistant chief, but has not done any work for the department since before Nov. 1 of last year. He was put on paid administrative leave as assistant chief, with full salary and benefits, on that day through the end of 2018. On Jan. 1, Dean was taken off leave and will remain on the city's payroll through July of this year, unless he finds other employment before the end of that month.
His assistant chief salary for the two months of paid administrative leave last year totalled $16,112 and the seven months of the year will amount to $56,392. The settlement also states Dean will be paid $37,626.89 for his sick pay and vacation at the end of his employment with the city. All of those salary and benefits will be paid to Dean, whether or not he leaves the city's employ before July 31.
City staff said Tuesday Dean has not informed Sherman he has found new employment.
Dean's suit came after he was demoted from the assistant chief position he held under Henry to lieutenant after Zachary Flores was named police chief in late 2016. After Dean first filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017, his attorney Ron Huff told the Herald Democrat Dean was discriminated against because of his age, and he was retaliated against because he voiced support for Henry.
The settlement document states Dean, following his promotion back to assistant chief last year, was to receive his assistant chief badge, his Glock 17, Glock 43 and AR-15 weapons, as well as commemorative shadow boxes at a presentation ceremony if he requests one.
The document also states all negative disciplinary references after his demotion will be removed from his file, as will references to a 2012 written reprimand for taking cell phone evidence home.
Sherman issued a check for the full settlement amount to the Richardson Law Firm in November of last year, but city staff said TML reimbursed it for $64,373.11.
Huff and the Richardson Law Firm did not return messages left Tuesday seeking comment on the settlement.
City Attorney Brandon Shelby said Henry's $600,000 settlement was paid for evenly by Sherman and TML. Sherman issued a check to Henry for $341,989.20 and to Huff, who also represented the former police chief, for $258,010.80 in April of last year.
Henry's lawsuit, which he filed in 2017, said city officials removed him from his position as police chief because of his age. Following the settlement last year, Henry and the city issued a joint statement that says Henry agreed to dismiss his lawsuit in exchange for a then-undisclosed cash settlement.
“The Parties agreed that the litigation has resulted in unwanted harm to a longstanding relationship of mutual respect,” the statement reads. “While both Parties were confident in their legal positions, both Parties also agree that settling this matter without further litigation is in the best interest of all involved. Former Chief Henry honorably served the citizens for more than 32 years and the City applauds his service. All Parties are happy to resolve the misunderstandings and move forward with the best interests of the citizens at heart.”
Huff did not return a message left Tuesday seeking comment.
Shelby said Kirksey's $112,000 settlement was also split between Sherman and TML, with the city issuing the former assistant director of Public Works a $54,542.99 check in June of last year.
Kirksey's lawsuit, which was filed in late 2017, said the city violated his civil rights. Kirksey, who is African-American, went to work for the city in August 2016 as assistant director of Public Works.
When the director of public works position came open in November 2016, the city placed the public works department under the supervision of Steve Ayers, “a Caucasian, who was a former police officer with no prior experience in public works,” as the suit said. The “Caucasian with no prior experience in public works” description was also used for Kevin Winkler, who was made the second person in charge of the department.
Kirksey was then given the title of assistant Public Works manager, which the suit said had no job description and did not exist before the changes were made. After Kirksey filed a complaint with the EEOC, the lawsuit said Kirksey's “new job description stated he had the same responsibilities as he did before being demoted, but in his day to day job, he was routinely kept out of the loop and prevented from performing his prior job functions.”
The settlement states Kirksey was placed on paid administrative leave from June 19-July 31 last year and then agreed to resign from the city effective Aug. 1, 2018. He was allowed to remove any personal belongings from his office prior to July 31 of that year “under the supervision of an escort” provided by the city.
The document states Sherman agreed to pay all remaining accrued sick and vacation time as of July 31, 2018, which comes to 96 hours of sick time with a monetary value of $4,642.32 and 27.75 hours of vacation at a total of $1,110.55. As part of the settlement, Kirksey was required to provide a written statement to the Sherman City Council that “retracts any and all of his allegations in the litigation.”
Kirksey's attorney Ed Richardson, from the Richardson Law Firm, did not return a message left Tuesday seeking comment.
TML issued two $15,000 checks to Blackwell and his attorney Huff to cover his $30,000 settlement.
After Blackwell filed a complaint with the EEOC in early 2017, Huff said Sherman retaliated against the former director of human resources and discriminated against him based on his gender and age. City staff told the Herald Democrat in January of that year that in Blackwell's new position, training and development manager, he received no change in his rate of pay and had the same supervisor.
Huff did not return a message left Tuesday seeking comment on the settlement.