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November 20, 2012
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Sheriff's Office, former deputy reach settlement

ASPEN - Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Monday that his office recently reached an $85,000 out-of-court settlement with former Deputy Ann Stephenson, whom he fired March 3 following her alleged misconduct in an on-duty hit-and-run incident about a month earlier.

After she was fired, Stephenson, 54, filed a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her attorney also filed notice of an "intent to sue" DiSalvo, the Sheriff's Office and Pitkin County government on the grounds that she was the victim of sexual discrimination.

DiSalvo said a mediation hearing on the matter was conducted at the commission's Denver office about seven weeks ago. A resolution came about in the weeks that followed. The settlement, which prevents Stephenson from filing future lawsuits in the matter, became official last week when she received the money.

As a result, the matter is now completely resolved, and there will be no future proceedings, DiSalvo said.

"We settled for $85,000 without any admission of wrongdoing on our part," DiSalvo said. "The settlement was clearly a business decision. We realized that this may start to cost the taxpayers a lot of money to defend ourselves. It was just pragmatic on our attorney's advice to do it this way."

Through the agreement between Stephenson and the Sheriff's Office, the status of her departure from the department has changed from one of termination to resignation. Also, she will receive a "neutral letter of recommendation" from DiSalvo, he said.

"We settled with Ann," he said of the former deputy, who was first hired by the Sheriff's Office in 1983. "She is now officially resigned."

DiSalvo said as a result of the mediation process, he learned that the department's employees haven't had any workplace behavior training centered around Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations in 15 or 20 years.

"As part of this agreement with the (commission), I also agreed to training for our department sometime in the next six months," he said. "It's in the settlement agreement because I wanted it to be there, but it's not really part of this case. That kind of training has become common in the workplace."

At the time of Stephenson's firing, DiSalvo commented that she had "crossed the line." The termination of Stephenson, who was demoted to deputy last year after 15 years as a supervisor, came after a Feb. 7 incident on Cluny Road, which is part of a private neighborhood off West Owl Creek Road, according to a traffic-accident report from the Colorado State Patrol.

The State Patrol was handed the case by the Sheriff's Office, which received a phone call within 30 minutes after Stephenson allegedly left the scene around 6:30 p.m., according to the State Patrol report.

Stephenson had been on the scene investigating a two-vehicle accident, according to a dispatch recording. The caller said either Stephenson or a tow truck, which had been dispatched to Cluny Road for the original accident, had hit another vehicle.

"I need to speak to Ann Stephenson," the caller said, telling the dispatcher that "it was an accident she was just on. There was an additional hit and run."

The State Patrol report says that when Stephenson was backing out of Cluny Road to leave, the Chevy Tahoe patrol vehicle she was driving sideswiped another unoccupied vehicle on the road's shoulder.

"(Stephenson's vehicle) collided it's (sic) right passenger door mirror to the left, driver side mirror of the (second vehicle)," the report says, adding that Stephenson's vehicle "then left the scene."

In the state of Colorado, motor-vehicle accidents must be reported to law enforcement authorities.

Stephenson's supervisor that night was Parker Lathrop, according to DiSalvo. Stephenson notified Lathrop of the accident after the caller contacted dispatch, DiSalvo said.

DiSalvo declined to go into specifics about what Stephenson told Lathrop at the time or what she told the sheriff during later conversations about the incident. He said when she left the scene, she was not doing it to respond to an emergency- or work-related call.

The sheriff said he issued Stephenson a one-week paid suspension starting Feb. 27. One week later, she met with the sheriff, Undersheriff Ron Ryan and an assistant county manager, DiSalvo said. She was not given the option to resign.

"This termination is based on the State Patrol's report and the summons," DiSalvo said at the time. "Her explanation was not good enough. That's what I'm basing my termination on."

Responding on Monday to a question involving a hypothetical situation posed by The Aspen Times, DiSalvo said that if another deputy were to leave the scene of an accident in which he or she had a role - and was issued a summons by a law enforcement agency - he would fire them. He said he has to hold his employees to a higher standard.

He made it clear that he was speaking hypothetically about how he would handle such incidents in the future.

"There's a nondisparagement clause (regarding Stephenson) in the settlement," he said. "Now we can both move on and have successful careers. And this didn't cost the taxpayers a pile of money."

At the time of her firing, Stephenson's most recent salary was $34.86 an hour, according to the county's Human Resources Office. Based on a 40-hour work week, that translates to annual pay of $72,508.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 20, 2012 06:46AM Published Nov 20, 2012 01:26AM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.