PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A former West Virginia sheriff's officer filed a lawsuit Friday afternoon accusing the Wood County sheriff of making derogatory and sexist comments about her and another officer, inappropriately touching a female officer and creating a hostile work environment, The Parkersburg News and Sentinel reported.
The suit was filed by former Sgt. Della D. Matheny, who said Sheriff Steve Stephens' behavior eventually led her to quit the department in July 2021. It alleges the problematic behavior dates back to around 2012, when Stephens first made “inappropriate comments to (her) about her weight and appearance. He made comments to (her) about how her butt looked in the pants she wore.”
The lawsuit also claims Stephens added Matheny’s ex-husband as a friend on Facebook and asked him questions about Matheny’s sex life. And it says Stephens was “obsessed” with another officer, Chief Deputy Tasha Hewitt.
Calls to Stephens by the newspaper were not returned.
Friday’s lawsuit says Hewitt filed a formal complaint in March 2020. The investigator recommended the Wood County Commission implement sexual harassment training, which was never done, the lawsuit states.
Earlier this month, the Wood County Deputy Sheriff’s Association wrote to the County Commission, stating that they had taken a unanimous vote of no confidence in Stephens’ leadership. In response, Commissioner Blair Couch said he thought Stephens was "capable of regaining the deputies’ confidence,” the suit said.
By not taking action, Matheny said the Commission “continues to condone the misogynistic culture created by Sheriff Stephens." Matheny’s lawsuit names both Stephens and the County Commission as defendants. She is seeking a jury trial.
On Friday afternoon, commissioners told the paper they had not yet read the suit and could not comment until it had been reviewed by the county prosecutor. They planned to discuss the issue during Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting.