Fired jail employee sues Ind. county sheriff, others for $150K

Kim Hawkins, who filed the complaint Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Terre Haute, is asking $150,000 in lost wages and emotional distress

By Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — A legal complaint against Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing and staff members has been filed by a former jail employee — himself a former sheriff — who claims he was fired without just cause.

Kim Hawkins, who filed the complaint Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Terre Haute, is asking $150,000 in lost wages and emotional distress.

In his filing, Hawkins names Ewing, chief deputy John Moats, jail commander Charles Funk and jail matron Patty Bauer as defendants.

Vigo County Attorney Michael Wright told the Tribune-Star on Wednesday afternoon that he had not seen the lawsuit, and he had no comment to make on pending litigation.

The complaint contends that Hawkins was wrongfully fired because, in the words of the suit, “his response to his duties and responsibilities were viewed as being too friendly or lenient toward the inmates.” 

Hawkins also claims in the lawsuit that when he reported instances of excessive force and abuse by jail officers, he was rebuked or ignored.

Hawkins is a resident of Vermillion County where he was elected to two terms as sheriff from 1999 to 2006. He also served as a Vermillion County Commissioner from 2007 to 2010.

In his lawsuit, Hawkins claimed he was hired by former Vigo County Sheriff Jon Marvel (now a Vigo County commissioner) on Oct. 15, 2007, to be assistant jail commander. Hawkins states that after Ewing was elected sheriff in 2010, Hawkins was demoted and reassigned to be first sergeant, reporting to the jail commander. 

Hawkins contends the jail was operated in a “totally different philosophy and attitude” under Ewing, with inmate complaints being ignored and instances of brutality not addressed.

”Several inmates had to be taken to the local hospital because of the severe beatings or injuries they sustained from various jail officers,” the suit alleges.

The suit goes on to charge that Hawkins was not disciplined or reprimanded while working at the jail, but on Nov. 25, 2013, “he was asked to cover for two jail officers who are normally assigned to check records when processing an inmate before allowing release from jail.”

During that time, an inmate was accidentally released, but was returned to custody within three hours. There was no investigation, the suit states, and Hawkins was not asked to explain his actions related to the incident. However, on Dec. 13, Hawkins claims, his employment was terminated by the sheriff in connection with the erroneous inmate release, even though Hawkins objected and claimed retaliation for his criticism of the jail’s practices of overlooking brutality and excessive force.

The complaint also states that three other jail officers were terminated on the same day, and three new jail officers were hired, as well as the wife of the current jail commander.

Hawkins also claims that he reported instances of excessive force to the county attorney and two judges, and claims that he was punished with termination contrary to whistleblower laws which protect government employees.

Attorneys for Hawkins announced that a press conference was planned for 10 a.m. today at the west entrance to the Vigo County Courthouse. Hawkins is represented by Indianapolis attorneys Michael Sutherlin and Samuel M. Adams.

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