CORUNNA — The former Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office deputy corrections sergeant who was terminated from her position in October for allegedly violating department policies and orders has filed a wrongful termination and whistleblower’s protection lawsuit against Sheriff Brian BeGole seeking monetary damages that “far exceed $100,000.”
Attorneys for Kathy McGuckin, a longtime corrections deputy at the jail, filed a civil lawsuit Tuesday in 35th Circuit Court. McGuckin’s suit claims she was terminated in retaliation for filing complaints about questionable practices at the Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s ironic that the sheriff would commit an unlawful act toward an employee who was reporting unlawful acts to him,” McGuckin’s attorney Tom Pabst said Thursday. “As soon as she reported these things, the law says she was protected as a whistleblower.”
In a statement issued this morning, BeGole said the lawsuit is a “meritless and spurious attack on the sheriff and will be defended vigorously.”
In the statement, BeGole denied the allegations by McGuckin, calling them, among other things, “pure fiction.”
Shiawassee County Administrator Mike Herendeen said Thursday he is aware of the lawsuit, and is obligated to report the suit to the county’s insurance carrier within a certain time frame, though he is unsure of the exact length of that window.
No court dates for the lawsuit have been scheduled.
McGuckin’s suit claims she reported concerns about inappropriate use of the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) system by special deputy Sam Safi to co-workers, and BeGole allegedly asked “whether it was a complaint or not and whether it was a ‘formal complaint.’”
Unauthorized use of the LEIN system is a felony charge in Michigan.
“(McGuckin) raised concerns about the LEIN situation and it was ignored,” Pabst said. “For anyone else, that’s illegal. Even as an attorney, I can’t access that or I’d be locked up. Just because you’re a deputy or a special deputy or a police officer, and you see a pretty girl in a car or something and want to know who she is, you can’t look that up. That’s a felony.”
An anonymous complaint was filed with the State of Michigan’s LEIN Field Services, alleging misuse of the system. However, that complaint claimed Safi possessed a personal login to access LIEN. The complaint was determined to be “unfounded,” and Safi does not possess a valid login. An Oct. 9 Facebook post by the Sheriff’s Office shared an article about the findings, claiming “Once again, social media allegations (were) proven false.”
McGuckin has not been allowed to provide a statement to the LEIN office regarding her complaint, according to the suit.
“At no time did the plaintiff ever complain to the sheriff or the sheriff’s command regarding the misuse or abuse of the LEIN System by any employee, much less by special deputy Safi. This claim is pure fiction,” BeGole said in his statement.
BeGole added, “It’s a mystery to the sheriff why this former jail employee continues to obsess about special deputy Safi and the service he provides for the Sheriff’s Office.”
According to the lawsuit, “around July 2019, there was some public discussion of Mr. Safi being at the scene of a police matter prior to the trained and certified police officers arriving.” Safi’s qualifications as a police officer were brought into question during the Doran Duncan murder trial in July in Shiawassee County. Safi testified he retrieved a handgun from the car Duncan had crashed into the vehicle driven by 84-year-old George Ramos, who died at the scene.
Several other police officers who were present at the crash scene testified during the trial that they had not seen the handgun in Duncan’s vehicle before Safi was able to locate it on the passenger side floorboard.
McGuckin claims in her suit that she said the discrepancy was troubling, and she reported her concerns to BeGole.
She claims she was told that the sheriff would investigate her concerns.
“The Sheriff has the responsibility to ensure that all internal complaints are fully investigated and resolved satisfactorily,” BeGole said in the statement. “There would have been no reason not to investigate the special deputy if a complaint had been received by the sheriff or his command.”
After Duncan’s conviction, the Sheriff’s Office released a statement applauding the jury for reaching a guilty verdict, and stating the “Sheriff’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office were always confident that our actions were appropriate when rendering the discovered weapon safe and securing it as evidence.” The Argus-Press also published the statement.
Also according to the suit, less than two weeks after the trial, McGuckin’s brother, a Michigan State Police trooper, asked BeGole why his name was being brought up by BeGole to Sheriff’s Office employees. BeGole allegedly responded that “he thought he was running against him in the next sheriff’s election.”
Kathy McGuckin states the Sheriff’s Office began an investigation into her activities after that exchange.
She claims the investigator, former Michigan State Police Det. Mark Pendergraff, could not have acted as a neutral party. The lawsuit includes an April 28, 2017, social media post and photo of BeGole and Pendegraff celebrating Pendegraff’s swearing-in as a Shiawassee County deputy sheriff.
During the internal investigation, BeGole allegedly “demanded that Sgt. McGuckin submit to a polygraph,” according to the suit.
Kathy McGuckin was suspended without pay while the investigation was ongoing. However, the day after she was suspended, her position was posted on an internal job board inside the Sheriff’s Office. Undersheriff Robert Brancheau allegedly told McGuckin’s union representative that “she will be fired next week,” before any determination had been made.
McGuckin claims she received a notice of termination of her health insurance and other benefits before she was fired by the Sheriff’s Office.
“I think Kathy McGuckin was a good deputy and a good law enforcement officer,” Pabst said. “She didn’t do anything wrong and she never lied. She has two brothers in law enforcement, and her father is a retired police officer. BeGole has basically destroyed her career. What can she do now?”
BeGole said the lawsuit misrepresents the termination.
“The employees working at the Sheriff’s Office are accountable to the public and to the oath of office that they took when they were sworn in, which oath requires being truthful at all times,” his statement says. “Those employees who are unable to comply are disciplined up to and including termination.”