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Sheriff's settlement bars disclosure of details

The agreement that settled allegations of misconduct against former sheriff Rick Davis bars Davis and a former female deputy from disclosing details of the underlying allegation, the settlement shows.

The settlement, for $90,000, also identifies the plaintiff for the first time, apparently inadvertently. The document provided to the media, which the Asheville Citizen-Times posted on its website, has redacted the name of the plaintiff, a female deputy, throughout the terms of the settlement but included it in the signature line.
The settlement agreement, signed on Oct. 15, 2011, by Davis and five days later by the deputy, says the parties must not disclose "or allow to be revealed the terms, substance or content" of the agreement, nor the details on the negotiations, execution or implementation of the agreement.
"If asked about the Agreement, the Parties shall respond that that Ms. (redacted) is no longer at the sheriff's department," the agreement said.
The agreement also bars the parties from disparaging the other and defines "disparagement" as "any oral or written statement that negatively impacts" Davis or the woman.
The agreement granted the deputy 61 days of administrative leave with pay and paid the employee her unused vacation time. While the settlement required her resignation, it also required the sheriff's department to "indefinitely hold" her law enforcement certificate and answer inquiries by saying she was eligible for rehire. It barred the sheriff's department from opposing any application she might make for unemployment benefits.
The settlement was released after the Citizen-Times sued Henderson County and its insurer for access to the document and personnel files associated with the case. Superior Court Judge Mark Powell ruled on July 13 that the settlement was a public record but that the personnel files were not.
Henderson County commissioners declined to appeal the ruling, saying they agreed that the settlement was a public record; that it, indeed, was a document they had been seeking too. The N.C. Association of County Commissioners insurance fund also declined to appeal.

The county paid a $5,000 deductible for payment of the claim but commissioners have said they were never privvy to details of the allegations that the female deputy made against her boss.

County Manager Steve Wyatt said the payment of the claim did not raise the county's insurance premium.

"This claim would be one of a lot of different factors that goes into the rating and that rating determines what our premiums are," he said. "And guess what. Our premium went down."

Specifically, the premium for public officials' liability dropped from $42,919 to $40,697. "If you look at law enforcement only liability, it's down $5,000," he said.

Overall, the county's insurance premium for all coverage rose from $474,000 to $487,000 but the opening of the new Law Enforcement Center and the renovated health department building accounts for the change. The new buildings raised the value from $92 million to $120 million, Wyatt said.

Refusing to pay the deductible on the claim, Wyatt said, was not a sound option.

"If we don't pay the deductible, we're in violation, they drop our contract and we're liable for everything. We were contracturally obligated to pay the deductible and the next one and the one after that."

As for the Davis's medical disability, another part of his departure that critics have attacked, Wyatt said was not the county's call.

"It was the state retirement system" that made the determination, he said. "All we did was say, 'yeah, he worked here.' He went through the standard process and it was granted."