Rowan will pay thousands, make policy changes as part of settlement

Published 12:10 am Friday, December 4, 2015

A former sheriff’s deputy could receive thousands of dollars and cause significant policy changes in county government as a result of a lawsuit settlement set to be approved Monday.

The settlement agreement is worth more than $40,000 when lump-sum and recurring payments are combined. Rowan County will dish out $11,000 by Dec. 15 and another $11,000 by Jan. 15. Additional payments included in the settlement are another lump sum of $2,960.35 and bi-weekly payments of $592.07.

Rowan County is also set to make personnel changes in the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office to avoid similar lawsuits in the future.

Rowan County commissioners are expected to approve the settlement agreement one year after former Rowan County Sheriff’s Deputy John Knight first filed suit. In 2004, Knight was reclassified from a sheriff’s deputy position to a jailor at the Rowan County Detention Center.

The reclassification in job duties also resulted in a change in compensation. A sheriff’s deputy from 1982 to 2004, Knight alleged he missed out on monetary amounts only available to sworn law enforcement officers who have arrest power, court documents state. He retired in 2013.

Lump-sum payments to Knight will come from Rowan’s risk management fund and recurring payments will be withdrawn from the general fund, according to County Manager Aaron Church. Lump-sum payments, however, only last until Knight turns 62 in early 2017. The lump-sum payments will also cease if Knight is re-employed with another local government entity or dies.

Rowan County’s settlement with Knight was officially reached on Oct. 27, according to court documents. It’s set to be approved Monday as part of the county commissioners’ consent agenda — used for items with unanimous agreement.

Commissioners on Monday will also consider a number of policy measures related to Knight’s lawsuit. A package of personnel policy changes also appears on the consent agenda.

The most significant measure is recognizing certain positions — a total of 11 employees — at the Rowan County Detention Center as sworn officers. As a result, the 11 employees will be eligible for a law enforcement officer special separation allowance. They’ll also get a 5 percent increase in 401-k contributions. Only the positions approved by county commissioners on Monday would receive the special allowance and increased 401-k contribution, according to a memo from Human Resources Director Darlene Boling.

Remaining documents set for approval on Monday clarify which employees of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office can be considered sworn law enforcement officers and give significant authority to Rowan County commissioners in deciding employees’ classification. In all cases, the policy requires the employee to be working in a “sworn law enforcement position approved by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.”

Commissioners’ decision on Monday will come after months of discussion outside of court. Rowan County commissioners have discussed the case multiple times in closed session during recent months.  Knight’s attorney, David Shelby, subpoenaed Sheriff Kevin Auten and former Rowan County Manager Gary Page, but the case never proceeded to oral arguments.

Rowan County is represented by Charlotte lawyer Ken Raynor in the case.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.