Deputy sues schools over slapping, firing

Feb. 03, 2014 @ 05:05 PM

A Durham County sheriff’s deputy has sued Durham Public Schools, claiming he was wrongfully fired as a school resource office at Neal Middle School after an employee he had dated slapped him across the face in front of school officials and students.
Deputy Hampton Robinson’s suit, filed last year in U.S. Middle District Court in Greensboro, also claims he was the victim of racial discrimination by the schools.
Robinson also has filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Durham schools officials said Robinson’s claims are baseless and that the decision of where to assign school resource officers is made by the sheriff, not the schools. It asks that the lawsuit be dismissed.
In his suit, Robinson, a sergeant, claims that on the morning of Jan. 29, 2013, he was in the school’s front office advising students when a guidance counselor, Jacqueline Valachovic, leaned over and smacked him in the face with an open hand, saying: “You lying son of a [expletive].”
He said the school’s principal, M. Jill Hall, Assistant Principal Calvin Freeman and at least two other school employees were present when he was slapped.
About 9 a.m., he said, the school’s head of security contacted the Durham County Sheriff’s Office and asked how she could have Robinson removed from his job at the school, saying she’d heard that he and the guidance counselor had been dating and that he was caught cheating with another Neal staff member.
Sheriff’s officials told the head of security that based on what she had told them and what they learned, Robinson had been the victim, according to the suit.
The school system fired Robinson, the suit claims, and he hasn’t been able to get a similar job because there are no other school-resource officer slots open.
At issue is whether school resource officers, who are sheriff’s deputies, are employees of the sheriff or schools while they’re working at the school.
Robinson is on paid administrative leave with the Sheriff’s Office, according to Brad Hill, an associate attorney with the Raleigh law firm of James E. Hairston Jr., which represents Robinson.
The lawsuit says that before the slapping incident, the guidance counselor, who is white, confronted a female school employee at Neal about her relationship with the deputy.
“Valachovic was extremely agitated and informed the African-American female employee” that she would speak to the school principal about reassigning Robinson to another school, the suit states.
The lawsuit asserts that Robinson, a 20-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, was “clearly and unequivocally a victim of blatant assault…” It says the guidance counselor was not disciplined for slapping him.
Robinson, who is black, claims he was treated unfairly because of his race.
Durham Public Schools “has treated African-Americans employed as SRO/security officers differently than their Caucasian co-workers,” it states.
The suit said the school didn’t fire a white SRO/security officer after learning that he  was caught in a city park with an underage teen student. It said the schools earlier had a black officer removed from Neal “without appropriate investigation nor justification.”
According to the suit, school officials said they fired Robinson “not because he was the victim of an assault, but because he was causing a disruption at the school.” The suit counters that “the assault was the disruption.”
In his EEOC complaint, Robinson said he was assaulted by “an employee that I had an intimate relationship with that ended probably a year before when I advised her that I did not want a relationship and I did not have time to have a relationship.”
“We continued to maintain a friendship where we exchanged telephone calls and text messages,” Robinson wrote. “She apparently [was] under the assumption that the relationship had not ended, and assaulted me because she felt that I was dating one of her co-workers.”
Robinson said the Sheriff’s Office investigated the incident “and concluded that I had engaged in no violation, and felt that I should not have been removed from my position.”
But Paul Martin, a major with the Sheriff’s Office, said Monday: “Sergeant Robinson is currently employed by the Office of the Sheriff and he is performing administrative duties. The Office of the Sheriff was not aware of the pending litigation against Durham Public Schools and has no comment.”
Chrissy Pearson, communications officer with Durham Public Schools, said the school board and district leaders believe Robinson’s complaint “has failed to state a claim against the school board, and our attorney has filed a motion to dismiss the case. We await a decision in federal court.”