Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Nurse sues over firing from Grant County jail



By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WILLIAMSTOWN - A former nurse at the Grant County jail claims she was fired for reporting suspected violations of federal and state laws at the facility now besieged by allegations of inmate abuse.

Sandra Cook, 48, of Williamstown filed a lawsuit against Grant County Jailer Steve Kellam, Judge-executive Darrell Link and the Fiscal Court on Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

Cook claims, among other things, that the jail violated Kentucky's whistle-blower law and that she was subject to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment during her nearly three years of employment.

The suit claims her firing was motivated by gender and age discrimination. She alleges she has been replaced by a younger and less-qualified woman.

"We feel very determined that she was wronged," said Cook's attorney, Barbara Bonar of Covington. "She was there at the jail to try to help the inmates and was very disappointed at how the officials managed the situation."

Bonar said her client would cooperate fully in any federal investigation of the jail, located 40 miles south of Cincinnati. FBI agents have interviewed former inmates who have claimed they were abused, and the U.S. Justice Department has asked state and local officials for information.

Kellam has referred all questions about jail misconduct to his attorney, Tom Nienaber of Crescent Springs, who couldn't be reached for comment. Grant County Attorney Edward Lorenz also couldn't be reached for comment.

The suit claims Kellam refused to hire a second nurse despite permission from Fiscal Court to fill the job. Cook says Kellam retaliated by reassigning her administrative help after she complained about the pressures of performing her nursing duties at the 300-bed facility.

The suit claims Kellam ordered Cook to carry a two-way paging device at all times but refused to compensate her when she responded to a medical emergency. Cook says she was forced to falsify time cards to make it appear she worked less than she did.

On May 20, according to the suit, Cook asked to meet with Link to discuss conditions at the jail, specifically regarding the way abuse allegations were being addressed. Cooks claims she told Link she "intended to tell the truth and that she will not lie for anyone."

Bonar declined to say what suspected federal and state violations her client might have witnessed, and Cook was not available for comment Tuesday.

Cook is named as a defendant in four of the five civil rights suits filed against the jail since late March. One common theme among the suits, which all alleged some form of inmate abuse, is lack or outright denial of medical care.

A suit filed on June 9, for example, claims former Grant County inmate Billy Jo Killion was denied plastic and reconstructive surgery to his eye socket despite a doctor's opinion that Killion could go blind in one eye without emergency surgery. Killion's public defender filed a motion seeking shock probation so his client could get out of jail and receive medical treatment. The motion was denied.

E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com




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