Sheriff's Department Slapped With $9M Lawsuit


A suspended corrections officer is suing Jefferson County and members of the sheriff's department for $9 million, saying she was the victim of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Janice O'Dell filed the lawsuit in federal court.

According to the suit, male co-workers:

- sent her a picture of a penis
- made comments about her physical appearance
- sent her sexually suggestive messages
- made racist remarks about African Americans
- falsely accused her of having "relationships" with jail inmates
- sought criminal prosecution against her based on false testimony and fabricated evidence

The lawsuit names Sheriff John Burns, retired Undersheriff Andrew Neff, current Undersheriff Paul Trudeau as well as sheriff's department employees Robert Newtown, Francis Seymour, Michael Peterson and Kristopher Spencer.

Read the entire lawsuit (the specific allegations can be found beginning on page 8)

According to court documents, O'Dell was hired in December 2008 and was suspended without pay on May 17, 2012, after being accused of having relationships with inmates "inside and outside" of the jail.

In June of 2012, a grand jury indicted O'Dell on criminal charges for allegedly giving an inmate cigarettes and a lighter.

(See our 2012 report)

Court documents claim the charges were based on false testimony and fabricated evidence.

According to the lawsuit, the indictment was dismissed in February 2013 and O'Dell was served with new and different disciplinary charges a month later.

The suit claims O'Dell has suffered physically, emotionally and economically from the alleged harassment and discrimination.

Sheriff John Burns declined to comment on the lawsuit.

County Attorney Dave Paulsen said, "We do not feel there is any merit to the allegations of discrimination."

7 News was unable to reach O'Dell's lawyer for comment.

This isn't the first time the sheriff's department has come under fire amid allegations of sexual harassment and employee misconduct.

Some of the personnel problems at the sheriff's department include:
- Deputy Adam Hallett was suspended for having an open alcoholic beverage container in his patrol car.  Another deputy is also facing discipline in that case.
- A nurse at the county jail resigned after she admitted to improperly accessing someone's medical records.
- The county faces legal action filed by Deputy Krystal Rice that focuses on revealing photos of Rice that were allegedly taken for a pedophilia sting, and which she claims were misused.
- Jefferson County Undersheriff Andy Neff retired following accusations that he sexually harassed an Adams Center woman.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
, Watertown, NY

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