Civil rights complaint filed against sheriff

Published on Wed, Oct 16, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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At the October 8 Whatcom County Council meeting, council authorized the county to provide a defense and indemnification for Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo and chief of corrections Wendy Jones in response to a lawsuit filed with the federal district court for the Western District of Washington on May 15, 2013. 

The lawsuit alleges that Elfo and Jones, along with three other unnamed county employees, violated the civil rights of Donald Calvin during his arrest and detention at the Whatcom County Jail. 

“We’ve assessed the case and have determined that [those named] were acting within their scope of employment,” said chief civil prosecutor Daniel Gibson. “So even though they are being named as individuals, they were simply performing their job and we aren’t going to leave them hanging.” 

Calvin, who is representing himself, alleges that during his arrest and month-long stay at the jail, his First, Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated and he was not given adequate medical attention. 

“He’s essentially complaining about his treatment,” Gibson said. 

Sheriff Elfo said Calvin was arrested after assaulting a state park ranger at Larrabee State Park south of Bellingham, and that sheriff’s deputies were called in for assistance. 

Calvin alleges that after a few days in the jail, he became ill, “suffering severe stomach cramps and was unable to eat,” according to the filed complaint. He goes on to allege that Sheriff Elfo “has otherwise failed or refused to adequately supervise and correct illegal and unconstitutional violations of law by medical staff, and/or other inferior officers under his supervision.”

Gibson said it’s likely the case will be dismissed, as the complaint was filed after the statute of limitations had expired. “The document was accepted for filing in early June of this year,” Gibson said. “He was released in early May 2010 according to court records, and the statute of limitations is three years. It appears to us that he did not file in a timely manner.” 

At press time, Elfo said that he had not yet been able to meet with lawyers to assess the situation, but it was not an unusual circumstance. 

“We’re always faced with litigation in operating a jail,” Elfo said.