Jury backs Napoleon’s decision to fire whistleblower in sheriff’s office

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A jury upheld Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon’s decision to fire an employee who sued the county in a whistleblower case.

The verdict was delivered after two weeks of testimony in a case in which Renee Newell, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office director of compliance, said she was fired in May 2012 after telling the sheriff and other executives that Director of Jails Jeriel Heard had improperly hired a relative.

The jury sided with the sheriff’s office after hearing audio recordings and witness testimony, according the department officials.

Officials said Newell was fired after she violated a policy forbidding direct or indirect contact with inmates, failed to notify executives when her brother was incarcerated and violated phone policies.

In a statement Thursday, Napoleon said the decision to fire Newell was not easy, but needed to secure the jails.

“We’ve always maintained it was proper, especially since I have fired some 18 other individuals who violated the same policies against fraternization,” he said. “It is crucial that we maintain the highest levels of security in our jails and I applaud the jurors for scrutinizing the evidence and denying her claims.”