Weatherford Democrat

October 2, 2013

County denies firing related to official’s allegations

Response filed to lawsuit filed by former deputy fire marshal claiming his whistleblowing led to termination


Weatherford Democrat

— By CHRISTIN COYNE

Parker County is denying that the termination of a deputy fire marshal was in retaliation for the former employee’s allegations of an illegal search by his boss.

Ken Dabbs, who had been with the Parker County Fire Marshal’s Office since 2008, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the county in August claiming he was let go from his position after he reported that Fire Marshal Shawn Scott illegally searched a property during a felony arson investigation.

However, in court filings last week, the county states that there is “no causal link between [Dabbs’] alleged report of violations of law and [the county’s] actions toward [Dabbs].”

The county says it had “legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons” for terminating Dabbs and would have done so based solely on reasons unrelated to Dabbs’ allegations of a violation of the law. The county did not state in court filings what those reasons were and county officials have declined to comment.

In the original petition, Dabbs claims Scott and another fire investigator returned to the address of a June 5, 2012, fire that destroyed a Cool-area home approximately three days after the fire and illegally entered and searched the property. During the search, Scott reportedly developed evidence that the fire was a felony arson.

Several days later, Scott told Dabbs of his findings and, under questioning by Dabbs, admitted he did not have a warrant nor the owner’s consent, according to the petition.

“Scott asked for Dabbs’ assistance interviewing the property owners so Scott could illegally obtain confessions from the property owners,” the petition states. “Scott apparently recognized the illegally obtained evidence would be inadmissible in a criminal case because of his illegal search.”

Dabbs claims he refused to help Scott, telling him that Scott needed to inform the county judge of his wrongdoing.

Dabbs later reported the incident to the Texas Ranger Anthony Bradford and District Attorney Don Schnebly, according to the petition.

The Parker County District Attorney’s Office has declined to comment on the issue and the Democrat left a message for but was unable to reach Bradford.

This year, Dabbs received a peace officer license separation form by mail from Scott dated May 7, ending Dabbs’ appointment with the fire marshal’s office. From that, Dabbs understood he was fired, according to the petition.

It’s not clear what Dabbs’ status has been with the department during the intervening 11 months, though the Democrat confirmed in February that Dabbs and another investigator, who was reported to be on medical leave at the time, were not responding to fire calls at that time.

Dabbs reportedly appealed his termination by writing letters to the Parker County Commissioners Court in July but claims he was not given an opportunity to be heard.

However, the county states in its answer that Dabbs was an at-will employee who could be terminated by an elected or appointed official over his department and did not have a right to appeal his termination under county policy because he was no longer an employee.