Jackson sheriff is 'multifaceted bigot' targeting women, blacks, the disabled, lawsuit states

Jackson sheriff is 'multifaceted bigot' targeting women, blacks, the disabled, lawsuit states

Updated 12:12 PM; Posted 11:09 AM 02-13-2018

Jackson County Sheriff Steven Rand, right, and Undersheriff Christopher Kuhl, middle, show the current visiting area at the Jackson County Jail's Wesley Street location on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. The sheriff is hoping to move to a video visitation system. (J. Scott Park | Mlive.com)(MLive Media Group)

By Danielle Salisbury


Editor's note: This story contains profanity and other content that may not be suitable for all audiences.

JACKSON, MI - A federal lawsuit filed by a Jackson County sheriff's lieutenant alleges Sheriff Steven Rand is a "multifaceted bigot" who has insulted blacks, women, and Hispanics and mocked the lieutenant for his work-related hearing loss.

On a daily basis, while in the presence of witnesses, Rand ridiculed Lt. Tommy Schuette by "calling out his name in a voice imitating a deaf or mentally disabled person," states the lawsuit, filed Monday, Feb. 12, in U.S. District Court in Detroit against Rand and Jackson County.

Rand also called a former black deputy a "dumb n-----" and a local female judge a "scatter-brained c----," according to the lawsuit, which makes a long list of damning allegations and states many of the slurs are recorded.

With another female county employee, Rand talked of putting together a pornographic film of a murder: "I always wanted to do a snuff film with her and she could be the star. I would put one in the back of her head as I (ejaculate)," the lawsuit states.

Messages left with Rand on his cell phone at his office were not returned this morning. In a text message, County Administrator Michael Overton said the county had not been served with the suit.

"I couldn't believe it," Schuette's lawyer, Jim Fett, said of the information Schuette presented, unlike any he had seen or read about in law school. "I have been practicing employment law for 32 years now and it is like I am back in Mississippi in 1962."

These were not isolated incidents, he said. "This is going on every day."

The lawsuit alleges Rand created a hostile work environment for Schuette, harassing him because of his disability, and the county retaliated against Schuette, on health-related medical leave since October, because he reported and opposed "Rand's illegal conduct."

In a meeting Jan. 17 with Overton and Human Resources Director Richard Martonchik, Schuette detailed his experience and struggles and the difficulties of others caused by Rand's behavior, the lawsuit states. He played recordings and provided witness information, it states.

"Martonchik and Overton were only minimally interested, and after only a few recordings, Martonchik stated 'OK, we're disgusted and have heard enough," according to the lawsuit.

County Commissioners James "Steve" Shotwell Jr. and Rodney Walz said they could not comment on the lawsuit, Tuesday morning. The other seven commissioners were contacted, but weren't immediately available for comment.

"Even if I was (familiar), I can't talk about it," said Shotwell, the board chairman.

Walz said any allegations against Rand would surprise him. He said he has not seen any inappropriate behavior from Rand.

"We've had acquaintances from a long time ago when I was president of the village of Grass Lake and we worked on contracts with the sheriff for police services in the village of Grass Lake," Walz said. "From a professional standpoint, we've always had a great working relationship."

Schuette, 40, joined the sheriff's office in 1998. He has an "impeccable employment record" and was steadily promoted, lastly to lieutenant in 2013, according to the lawsuit.

"This guy is squeaky clean..." Fett said. "He should not be driven from the workplace becase he is doing the right thing."

The lawsuit states he suffers from "sensorineural hearing loss," sustained over time from work-related activities, particularly while a member and then commander of the Jackson County Special Response Team, an elite, tactical unit of the sheriff's office and Jackson Police Department.

Schuette, charged with overseeing road patrol operations, noticed about four years ago he was having difficulty hearing, especially after the use of explosive stun grenades knows as "flash bangs," the lawsuit states. By 2015, he was unable to hear team radio communications and began talking in 2015 or 2016 to Rand about his concerns. "Rand's response was to tell (Schuette) to 'stop being a pussy,' threaten to demote him... and remind him that he could be fired at any time," the lawsuit states.

In November 2016, he saw a specialist, who found the loss was "more than likely" connected to occupational noise exposure. The report was provided to Martonchik, and Rand "became relentless in his harassment," the lawsuit states. "(Schuette) continued to perform his duties in an exemplary fashion," according to the lawsuit.

The sheriff's attacks and conduct took its toll in October, requiring Schuette, to seek medical care and psychological counseling, according to the lawsuit. A therapist diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and he applied for and received on Oct. 19 up to a 12-week leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, the lawsuit states.

Schuette, who has a role in hiring, has played the "buffer," between current or potential employees. "He doesn't want the sheriff's bigoted attitude to interfere with fair employment processes," Fett said.

"That wears on you."

The county's workers' compensation insurer denied his petition for benefits, and he was eventually granted short-term disability benefits, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit contends the county is saddling the long-term disability carrier with liability for Schuette's workers' compensation injuries. County leadership also is refusing to address Rand's "egregious misconduct" to avoid accommodating Schuette, returning Schuette to work and "doing the right thing with respect to Rand," according to the lawsuit.

"The county's actions constitute an actual or constructive termination of (Schuette's) employment," the lawsuit states.

They want him out, Fett argues, "because he is a problem."

Establishing a pattern of alleged bigoted statements, the lawsuit makes further contentions against Rand, appointed in 2011 to replace former Sheriff Dan Heyns, when Heyns left to become head of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Rand was then elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016.

The following additional allegations outlined in the lawsuit are:

* In September 2017, Rand allegedly asked a Hispanic Jackson police command officer: "Don't you have any gardens to go pick?"

* The sheriff frequently addresses heavy command officers by placing the adjective "fat" before their first names and commonly called Schuette "deaf and dumb" and a "f------ retard." He frequently referenced Schuette and others as a "queer" or a "fag."

* Schuette has a screen shot of a text Rand sent the school liaison deputy as he and Schuette attended a "special needs luncheon" sponsored by a local school district, according to the lawsuit. "Make sure nobody thinks he is one of them and accidentally puts him on the bus," it says.

* In an August 2017 staff meeting, during a discussion of a black deputy under internal investigation, Rand remarked: "We should step on their necks like we used to," the lawsuit states.

* "Rand also made regular sexually inappropriate inquiries to male members of the department about female employees, including two different female deputies."

Schuette is asking for more than $75,000 in compensatory damages, an award for lost wages and the value of past and future fringe benefits and punitive damages.

"As strong as I have ever seen," Fett said of Schuette's case.

When asked about whether Schuette would like to return to work, Fett said: "Obviously, something has got to happen with regards to the sheriff being there. The sheriff is a pretty vindicitive individual.

"I don't want if it would be possible form a personal standpoint for him to return if the sheriff continues to be sheriff."

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