By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Former Detention Center Administrator Lois Bean filed a lawsuit against Curry County commissioners and County Manager Lance Pyle on Thursday, alleging she was misled, treated unfairly and discriminated against because she is a black woman.
In a 17-page suit filed in the 9th Judicial District Court, Bean said in November 2008 Pyle — promising his support and any money she needed to make the jail succeed — recruited her away from a job where she was happily serving as assistant warden at the Eddy County Detention Center.
Eight months after taking the job, Pyle fired Bean, citing her alleged failure to make changes she had been directed to make as the reason for termination.
The suit seeks an undisclosed amount of damages, lost wages and punitive damages.
According to the complaint, Bean said while she attempted to implement changes in management, staffing, training and correct architectural deficiencies, she was continually “rebuffed” by Pyle.
Pyle said he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but that “Curry County does not now and has not while I have been manager discriminated on the basis of race, sex or anything else.”
In her complaint, Bean also alleged Commissioner Caleb Chandler, “did not like blacks and females,” and that he humiliated her in public meetings and in committee meetings in an effort to make her quit.
She gave an example of a commission meeting in which she said Chandler “attempted to falsely claim … personnel were leaving the detention center because of (Bean).”
Chandler said as of Thursday evening he had not read the suit.
Chandler declined comment, saying only, “I was very transparent about my feelings about her administration of the detention center (and) my comments were made in public meetings and (are on record.)”
He declined further comment on the suit.
Bean said in the complaint that during her interview for the position, she told the interview panel the jail was “beyond help,” and the way it was configured made it a “death trap.”
She called the facility filthy, noting inmates were sleeping on the floor. She said medical care was poor or nonexistent in some cases. She also noted poor record keeping in addition to a history of problems from escapes, to staff corruption and beatings and stabbings at the jail.
Even though she experienced the same challenges other administrators had but with less incidents or issues, she said in the complaint she was singled out and fired.
During her tenure as jail administrator, Bean said she reduced employee turnover, the jail was cleaned, nutrition and medication issues were corrected, and she addressed excessive overtime and conformed to state and federal law on inmate care, including implementing a disciplinary process and classification process.
Commission Chairman Bobby Sandoval said Thursday he was aware of the suit but declined to comment.
A replacement for Bean has yet to be named.
The jail is currently under command of Sheriff Matt Murray, who stepped in after an unsuccessful Feb. 21 escape attempt prompted the resignations of then-Interim Administrator Carlos Ortiz and several members of his command staff.