Sex, threats and retaliation: Fired California deputy files lawsuit against Yolo County

A Yolo County sheriff's sergeant fired in September files federal lawsuit alleging he was punished for trying to expose sexual harassment and unprofessional behavior. He claims his supervisor threatened to shoot him and drove a county vehicle while intoxicated, while another deputy allegedly had sex in a patrol car while on duty. ( YOLO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE/TNS)
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By Sam Stanton The Sacramento Bee (TNS)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A former Yolo County sheriff’s sergeant who claims he was fired for refusing to cover up sexual harassment and discrimination sued in federal court Friday, alleging his supervisor threatened to shoot him and drove a county vehicle while intoxicated, while another deputy allegedly had sex in a patrol car while on duty.

The explosive allegations are contained in a federal employment retaliation and discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of Dean Nyland, a 14-year veteran of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office who says in the lawsuit that he was fired Sept. 3.

“He was terminated in retaliation for opposing sexual harassment and discrimination in the Sheriff’s Office and exposing efforts made by Captain Hernan Oviedo to cover up the harassment and discrimination,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Sacramento attorney Jill Telfer. “In addition, defendants terminated Nyland because of his age, replacing him with a younger, less qualified employee.”

Yolo County Sheriff Tom Lopez and Oviedo did not immediately respond to separate messages seeking comment Friday. County spokeswoman Jenny Tan referred inquiries to the Sheriff’s Office.

The lawsuit, which names the county, the Sheriff’s Office and 20 “Doe” defendants, portrays an almost out-of-control atmosphere inside the office, which in 2014 was the subject of a grand jury report that referred to its leadership under then-Sheriff Ed Prieto as being from the “wild, Wild West.”

Nyland’s problems with Oviedo began in 2015 while he was in his fifth year as a detective, the lawsuit says.

“Nyland developed serious concerns about Oviedo because Oviedo admitted to driving his county vehicle while intoxicated, he made inappropriate comments regarding female employees and told Deputies about confidential conversations between Oviedo and former Sheriff Prieto,” the lawsuit says. “Nyland informed Oviedo he felt this conduct was inappropriate and asked him to stop.”

“Oviedo responded by threatening to shoot Nyland in the head because he answered questions from Sheriff Prieto regarding a murder investigation,” the lawsuit alleges. “Oviedo told plaintiff to never discuss the case with Sheriff Prieto because Oviedo believed Prieto was furnishing Public Defender Tracie Olson information about the case due to the two being romantically involved.”

Prieto, who served five terms as sheriff before leaving the office more than a year ago, denied Friday he had such a relationship with Olson.

“I have professional friendships with many people, from the Public Defender’s Office, mental health, the District Attorney’s Office, the county counsel, the Board of Supervisors,” Prieto said. “As sheriff, I made sure to reach out to anyone I worked with during my tenure.”

Prieto declined to comment further on the lawsuit.

Olson, the chief public defender, called the allegation “patently untrue.”

“It’s offensively androcentric to believe that a male department head and a female department head, that somehow that relationship was tainted by sex,” Olson said.

Nyland’s lawsuit says he was deputy of the year in 2013 and was promoted to sergeant in October 2015.

Two years later, the lawsuit says, an officer informed him that another deputy “had been in a sexual relationship with a records clerk, which included the two having sex in a patrol vehicle at work.”

“At some point during the relationship, Nyland learned that (the deputy) had threatened the clerk to keep her mouth shut about the relationship,” the lawsuit says. “Officers, including those in management told Nyland that the administration was aware of this information, but did not care and would not take any corrective action.”

Nyland reported allegations of sexual harassment, the lawsuit says.

“Rather than hire an unbiased investigator, Oviedo assigned himself to investigate and dismissed the allegations,” the lawsuit says.

In 2018, “a young female deputy” came to Nyland and told him that she had been sexually harassed by the deputy in the alleged relationship with the records clerk, the lawsuit says, and Nyland reported that and an internal affairs investigation began.

“A well-respected deputy approached Nyland’s office, pale white and visibly upset and told Nyland that (the deputy facing the accusations) had asked him to lie to the IA investigator about (the deputy’s) treatment of female officers,” the lawsuit says. “The deputy expressed his fears of retaliation.

“Nyland advised the deputy to memorialize the incident and provide a copy of the memorandum the next day. The deputy arrived at work but was pulled away by Oviedo on his way to providing Nyland with the memorandum. The deputy informed Nyland that in that meeting with Oviedo, he was interviewed about the female deputy’s sexual harassment complaint.

“The complaint was eventually dismissed, with Oviedo telling the female deputy she was unable prove harassment because he believed there were times she participated in the (conduct).”

Nyland’s lawsuit says that as a result of his actions he faced retaliation, including being passed up three times for a promotion to detective sergeant and later being assigned to the graveyard shift.

Nyland met with Sheriff Lopez in January to discuss the retaliation and ask for an outside investigation, then met with the county counsel’s office, the lawsuit says. In February, Nyland filed a formal complaint with the Sheriff’s Office, the lawsuit says, but the “retaliation intensified.”

“Nyland was continuously shunned by the entire administration, he was disciplined for (pretextual) reasons and in June 2020, Nyland was served with a ‘Notice of Internal Investigation’ and was told that he was being accused of dishonesty,” the lawsuit says. “This was done to attempt to discredit Nyland to camouflage the discrimination and retaliation.

“The following day, plaintiff was placed on administrative leave, was stripped of his badge, gun, and department ID. Nyland was told that he no longer had any peace officer status and was confined to his residence Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.and was allowed one hour for lunch at noon. In the presence of others, plaintiff was escorted out of the building.”

The lawsuit says Nyland was offered three months’ severance but he refused and was fired in September.

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