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Caldwell County Retaliation Case to be Heard in Federal Courthouse in Paducah

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Caldwell County’s former animal shelter is embattled in a federal lawsuit seeking damages for what she claims is a wrongful termination. 

Abigail Tucker, who also served as a Princeton Police Officer names the county, city and several officials in her case saying she was fired because of a failed case against her.  She's seeking punitive damages for economic hardship caused by her firing which she says was a result of retaliation. 

The lawsuit names Caldwell County magistrates Rodney Heaton and Bobby Lewis, Judge-Executive Brock Thomas, Commonwealth Detective Clifford West, Princeton Police Chief Don Weedman and county employee Donna Thomas as defendants. 

Stacey Blankenship of Paducah law firm Denton & Keuler is the attorney for the defense.

She says the defense petitioned last month to have the case removed to federal court due to the nature of the complaint. 

"Ms. Tucker had alleged a federal court claim, a 42 U.S.C 1983 Civil Rights claim," said Blankenship. "If you do allege a federal court claim like that, then the defendant has the right to move it to federal court because typically the federal court is more uniquely situated to hear those claims." 

42 U.S.C. is a federal statute enabling a person to file civil action for deprivation of  constitutional and statutory by government officials acting under the "color of law."

Blankenship says part of the decision to move the trial was to get a change of venue as the controversy regarding Tucker's initial case was widely circulated in the local community. 

"It wasn’t the main motivation but it was certainly a consideration," said Blankenship. "And it’s not necessarily the support that she had but the fact that it would be possibly hard to get a fair and impartial jury in Caldwell County given the media exposure in that county to her case."

The case will now be heard by U.S.D.C. Judge Thomas Russell in the Circuit 6 federal court in Paducah. 

"The main issue is that it’s in Paducah and the second thing is that it also pools the jury from several counties rather than just Caldwell County," said Blankenship. "And finally it’s with Judge Russell in Paducah and he has been serving as a federal judge for many years and is well aware of the federal causes of action that she alleged in her complaint." 

Tucker's attorney, Bill Deatheridge, says he wasn't surprised by the move. 

"It was anticipated," said Deatheridge. "In her complaint, Ms. Tucker asserts a federal claim under the Federal Civil Rights act, so we kinda anticipated they might seek removal and they didn’t disappoint us. 

"The federal level in my opinion is much more structured. We’ll have more deadlines imposed that will cause the case to move on more timely than it would in a state court setting, not necessarily, but generally that’s what happens." 

You can read the full lawsuit below 

Princeton Animal Control Court Case 2361677-1--29827

In 2012, Tucker was accused of accepting a check from a shelter supporter and failing to report it. She was also accused of allowing employees to submit faked time cards. Both are class D felonies. A grand jury indicted her on charges of abuse of public trust and tampering with public records in June of 2012.

Shortly before appearing in court, the county fiscal court placed Tucker on suspension without pay. She had previously been on paid suspension since April and was also suspended from her job as an officer of the Princeton Police Department. 

In September 2013, Commonwealth Attorney G.L. Ovey entered a motion to dismiss those charges citing a State Supreme Court ruling that changed the law to disallow multiple offenses to be included in a single count of an indictment. 

Although the case was dismissed, Tucker was still terminated  from her positions as Animal Control Officer and Princeton Police officer. 

Blankenship says Tucker was on suspension for the felony charges and that county officials conducted the proper procedure.

"In respect to Caldwell County, she worked for them and was indicted by a Caldwell County grand jury for misconduct in relation to her job at Caldwell County and the policy is that the county does not allow someone to sit out their term on suspension," said Blankenship. 

"They have a certain amount of time to be on suspension and then after that you have to either put them back to work or you have to terminate them and in this situation that time had gone and the county had to make a decision," said Blankenship. "There was really no choice at that point because she did have a felony indictment against her at that point and they could not allow her to work while she was indicted for a felony in respect to her conduct while she was employed by the county." 

The lawsuit claims that the termination was part of a politically and personally-motivated campaign to cause Tucker emotional distress, humiliation, loss of income, injury to reputation and economic hardship.

"It’s Ms Tucker’s allegation that people who were politically connected wanted to get rid of her and they embarked on a campaign to do that and ultimately they were successful," said Deatherdige. "She suffered tremendously both emotionally and economically. She actually had two good jobs there in Caldwell County; one a city police officer and the other as the animal control officer and she was terminated from both positions and because of the allegations and the determination, she’s not been able to secure similar employment. The only thing she’s been able to do since is just entry level wages." 

The lawsuit demands a sufficient punitive sum to compensate Tucker for all damages and losses sustained plus attorneys' fees and an injunction prohibiting officials from engaging in future action. 

On October 30, U.S.D.C. Judge Thomas Russell will initiate a conference call with the parties' counsel to establish evidence discovery and set potential trial dates. 

"He wants the lawyers to talk before that and try to come up with an agreed schedule for deadlines and events, things that typically take place during the course of litigation," said Deatheridge. "And then he will enter an order usually following that conference, that will kind of give us our outline as to how we are to proceed." 

No other meeting dates have been established. 

Rob Canning is a native of Murray, KY, a 2015 TV Production grad of Murray State. At MSU, he served as team captain of the Murray State Rowing Club. Rob's goal is to become a screenwriter, film director or producer and looks to the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie for inspiration. He appreciates good music, mainly favoring British rock n' roll, and approves of anything with Jack White's name on it. When not studying, rowing or writing, Rob enjoys spending his free time with a book or guitar.
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