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Marshall Co. 911 director alleges discrimination, harassment and retaliation by county officials in lawsuit

Rachel Collins

Marshall County’s E-911 director has filed a lawsuit alleging county officials harassed him over a hearing disability, retaliated against him for complaining about the harassment and retaliated against him for reporting sexual harassment of one of his employees.

Attorneys for Chris Freeman – who leads the center handling 911 calls and dispatching of emergency services – filed the lawsuit in federal district court in early May, levying a litany of accusations against District 2 County Commissioner Kevin Spraggs, Marshall County Sheriff Eddie McGuire, West Marshall Fire Department Chief Brian Andrus and others.

Freeman’s allegations date back to 2019, when the county fiscal court received an anonymous letter that said he was “unfit for duty” because of his hearing disability. Attorneys for Freeman claim the letter is connected to Spraggs because of the commissioner’s past discriminatory comments about his disability. Freeman is deaf in one ear, according to the lawsuit.

Freeman eventually filed a harassment complaint with the fiscal court, which didn’t respond to the complaint, according to the lawsuit.

“The bullying and harassment was emanating from various elected county officials. So, he's battered with criticisms and attacks because of his hearing impairment,” said Barbara Bonar, one of Freeman’s attorneys. “He was further harassed and retaliated against for complaining about the harassment.”

In the lawsuit, Freeman claims one of his employees was sexually harassed by a sheriff’s deputy. After reporting the incident to human resources, Freeman says Sheriff Eddie McGuire retaliated against him and interrogated the employee for hours.

The lawsuit goes on to allege that Sheriff McGuire, Fire Chief Andrus and Commissioner Spraggs “spearheaded” an effort in August 2020 to get Freeman ousted from his position, circulating a petition of no-confidence and holding a community rally against him. Freeman’s attorneys also allege McGuire and Spraggs defamed him through the media including accusations of “obscene” spending related to the county’s 911 center.

First responders in Marshall County did circulate a petition of no-confidence related to Freeman in 2020, citing issues with the radio communications systems at the regional 911 dispatch center being developed. In an interview at the time, McGuire said the petition wasn’t created to get Freeman terminated, but was intended to emphasize that radio communication equipment needed to be a priority and to try and establish a board overseeing 911 services to give first responders a “seat at the table.”

In interviews with WKMS News, McGuire, Andrus and Spraggs denied wrongdoing but said they would withhold comment until after consulting with legal counsel.

“I look forward to going to court and look forward to going to trial and letting the truth come out,” McGuire said.

Barbara Bonar, the attorney for Freeman, said the lawsuit is ultimately about repairing attacks to his reputation and seeking relief for emotional distress. Freeman’s attorneys are seeking a jury trial and monetary damages.

“They've destroyed him as a person. They've destroyed him as an employee. They've destroyed his family,” Bonar said. “They continue to blame everything that happens at the county on him, and he hasn't had a forum for defending himself.”

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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