A Jackson County computer technician is suing Sheriff Mike Sharp in a civil rights action lawsuit.
Brice Stewart filed the suit on Sept. 11. In it, he says he was removed from the sheriff’s office in retaliation for announcing his plan to run for sheriff in 2016.
"I made it very clear that I was going to run because basically I'm tired of it. I'm tired of it happening to me. I don't want it to happen to anyone in the future,” Stewart said.
In July, he was removed from his job at the sheriff’s office in Lee's Summit and told he would be working in downtown Kansas City. Stewart says the move would force him to pay additional taxes, extend his drive time and cause him to be late to his part-time job. Stewart said, "I have a family and I'm trying to support them and it would just be a financial hardship on me to have to go downtown." He says this is not the first time he has been targeted by county officials.
Last year, Stewart ran for county executive. "Five days after I signed up for the election, I received a phone call from my supervisor and they came in and they confiscated my laptop and my desktop and they actually sent them in for forensic testing. Ultimately they didn't find anything."
He’s still employed by Jackson County.
Eddie Greim, a partner at Graves Garrett LLC, said, "There's a lot of case law that makes it difficult for public employees to sue their superiors or to sue their employer for political participation.” This type of lawsuit is rare, and in a case like this, the plaintiff would have to prove they spoke on a matter of public concern. "If he's speaking about being a candidate or speaking about grievances with the sheriff's department, that would probably qualify. The sheriff's department, though, then could come back and say the way in which he's been speaking about it, the way he's been exercising his right has made it hard to run the sheriff's department.”
Stewart says he still plans to run for Jackson County sheriff in 2016. "I made it very clear that I was going to run because basically I'm tired of it. I'm tired of it happening to me. I don't want it to happen to anyone in the future."
Sharp was served on Sept. 14. He has 20 days from that date to respond. Next, a judge will decide if the lawsuit is valid. If it’s tossed out, Stewart says he is prepared to appeal.
Dia Wall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .