LACONIA — Belknap County has been dismissed from a lawsuit brought by the former chief deputy in the County Sheriff’s Department who is alleging that he was forced out of his position in reprisal for his wish to run for sheriff.
The suit, filed last October by David Perkins, named then-Sheriff Michael Moyer and Belknap County as defendants.
The county had argued that because sheriffs are elected officials they have considerable autonomy over the internal operations of their office, including personnel matters, and so the county administration has no role in department hiring and firing decisions.
The decision to dismiss the case against the county did not address the suit as it pertains to Moyer.
Perkins left the Sheriff’s Department in 2020, after being suspended with pay for six months following three personnel investigations, all without any public explanation. He alleged in the suit that he was terminated by Moyer in retaliation for deciding to run for sheriff.
When Perkins told Moyer of his intention to run, Moyer allegedly urged Perkins to retire instead because Moyer was planning to endorse Deputy William Wright as his successor, a charge Moyer has denied.
Wright was elected sheriff last November.
In a ruling issued May 18, Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius said the county could not held responsible for Perkins’ termination because “the county lacked the power to terminate the plaintiff. … County governments’ authority over the affairs of county sheriffs … is limited,” the judge continued.
What authority the county commissioners have over the Sheriff’s Department is limited to ensuring that it adheres to its budget, the judge noted.
Perkins had argued that the county’s budgetary authority over the sheriff’s office meant that the county and the Sheriff’s Department were “inextricably intertwined in their handling of deputy sheriffs.”
But the judge disagreed.
Citing a prior court ruling, Ignatius wrote, “The sheriff, by virtue of his office, ha(s) the sole authority to determine who will occupy the deputy sheriff positions funded, and what their functions will be.”
The judge dismissed the county as a defendant a month later, after Perkins failed to exercise his right to file an amended complaint.
In his own filings, Moyer has denied Perkins’ retaliation claim.
In court documents, Moyer either denies the allegations contained in Perkins’s suit, or says that he has no knowledge of the substance of the allegations and therefore is unable to either confirm or deny them. In addition, Moyer further states that Perkins “suffered no damages” due to Moyer’s actions, according to court documents.
Moyer has asked the court to dismiss the suit, and further asks to court to order Perkins to pay Moyer’s legal fees.