Williams, Russell, & Hambrick v. Sheriff Riley & Steve Atkinson

Tammy Williams, Earl Russell, & Cheryl Hambrick v. Sheriff James A. Riley, in Hish Official and Personal Capacities; and Steve Atkinson, Individually and in His Official Capacity as Deputy Sheriff and Jail Administrator of Desto County, Mississippi

U.S.D.C., Northern District of Mississippi, Delta Division

Cause No. 2:05-cv-00083-WAP

On January 12, 2012, a jury in the United States District Court in Greenville, Mississippi, returned a verdict in favor of former DeSoto County correctional officers Tammy Williams, Earl Russell, and Cheryl Hambrick. The jury found that DeSoto County and former jail administrator Steve Atkinson were liable for damages totaling $721,000. The jury further found the three were fired because they reported an assault by correctional officer Stephen Winters on an inmate. The County claimed it fired the three for poor job performance. After the trial, the County argued to Judge Michael Mills that the jury’s verdict should be thrown out because under a decision of the United States Supreme Court, speech by employees is not protected by the United States Constitution. Judge Mills ruled, however, that in reporting the assault, the three jailors were engaged in “citizen speech,” which is protected by the First Amendment and upheld the jury’s verdict.

Attorneys for Plaintiffs were Jim Waide and Rachel Pierce of Waide & Associates, P.A., and Shane McLaughlin of McLaughlin Law Firm in Tupelo, Mississippi. Attorneys for Defendants were David Barfield and Steven Lacey of Barfield & Associates in Jackson, Mississippi, and Anthony Nowak and Megan Willoughby of Smith, Phillips, Mitchell, Scott & Nowak in Hernando, Mississippi. U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper presided over the four-day trial.