Deputy disciplined after teen forgotten in holding cell files suit against Uintah County sheriff, HR director

Published: Monday, Feb. 3 2014 1:44 p.m. MST

Uintah County Sheriff's Cpl. Gale Robbins was disciplined after a teenage girl was forgotten in a courthouse holding cell for several hours in August. Now he's filed suit in 8th District Court, claiming the sanctions were too severe.

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VERNAL — A Uintah County sheriff's corporal who was disciplined after a teenage girl was forgotten in a courthouse holding cell for several hours has filed a lawsuit claiming the sanctions he received were too severe.

In a complaint filed in 8th District Court, Cpl. Gale Robbins claims he was wrongfully sanctioned by Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell. Robbins also argues the punishment he received "exceeded the reasonable response to the situation" and alleges that the discipline has "materially affected" his job with the sheriff's office.

Merrell and Uintah County human resources director Joe McKea are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

As part of his suit, Robbins wants a judge to order the sheriff's office to turn over all reports on the incident that led Merrell to take disciplinary action against him. He also wants copies of courthouse surveillance videos from the day of the incident.

"I'm looking for the truth," Robbins told the Deseret News in a telephone interview Monday. "I want the whole truth to come out, not just part of it."

Robbins was the sergeant in charge of courthouse security on Aug. 1 when a 16-year-old girl was taken into custody by another bailiff at the end of a juvenile court hearing.

The teen was put in a holding cell that has a toilet and running water to await transport to nearby Split Mountain Youth Detention Center, but was forgotten and the courthouse closed for the night, according to public records released to the Deseret News in December. Those records show the courthouse cleaning staff discovered the girl five hours later, and she was taken by deputies to the detention center.

Robbins and the deputy who put the girl in the holding cell were punished following an internal affairs investigation that identified violations of sheriff's office policy ranging from failure to supervise to engaging in conduct "that would tend to disrupt, diminish or otherwise jeopardize public trust and fidelity in law enforcement."

Public disciplinary records obtained by the Deseret News show that Robbins was demoted to the rank of corporal and had his pay reduced. The other deputy was suspended for one week without pay, the records show. Both employees were also reassigned to the jail and placed on disciplinary probation for one year.

Robbins appealed the sanctions at every level allowed by county policy, but was unsuccessful in having them reduced or reversed, public records show.

Merrell said in December that the disciplined deputies "took responsibility and we worked through it." When contacted Monday about Robbins' lawsuit, the sheriff said he hadn't been served with any court documents and was unaware of the complaint.

"It's news to me," Merrell said.

No court dates have been scheduled in the case.

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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