- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) - A federal lawsuit filed against the Benton County sheriff says the elected official had a list of employees he planned to dismiss after the March 1 primary election.

Three sheriff’s office employees Dianna Goodwin, Robin Holt and Megan Rutledge filed the suit against Sheriff Kelley Cradduck on Thursday. Holt and Rutledge work at the jail, and Goodwin is Cradduck’s administrative assistant.

They’re suing for violation of their free speech rights and association, along with civil rights. They also allege there was an Arkansas Whistle Blowers Act violation because the sheriff’s behavior is in retaliation to the employee’s cooperation with a state police investigation against him.

In a criminal case, Cradduck has pleaded not guilty to charges of felony tampering with a public record and misdemeanor tampering. He is accused of falsifying an employee payroll request form to reflect a start date of more than a week earlier and of instructing Goodwin to lie about it to Arkansas State Police investigators.

The lawsuit seeks punitive and compensatory damages.

The employees claim they were threatened and harassed by Cradduck and falsely accused of insubordination, incompetence and poor job performance.

Holt is also separately suing Cradduck for defamation. The lawsuit says Cradduck has publicly described Holt as a dishonest, politically motivated and disgruntled employee who has been disciplined and passed over for promotion numerous times.

Cradduck didn’t respond to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s (https://bit.ly/1SY74tA ) request for comment Thursday. Last week he said that no one was in danger of losing their jobs.

County attorney George Spence said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit.

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Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.nwaonline.com

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