Tim Gaffney, director of administration for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, has filed a lawsuit against outgoing County Manager Fritz Behring and Pinal County.
The lawsuit was filed May 10 and alleges Gaffney suffered defamation, intentional injury and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other things. The lawsuit does not specify a dollar amount for damages.
On May 22, the Scottsdale City Council voted 7-0 to hire Behring to be Scottsdale’s new city manager; Behring’s last day with Pinal County is June 30.
Gaffney and the Sheriff’s Office blamed Behring for an investigation into Gaffney last year for allegedly tampering with public records by deleting thousands of emails from his personal computer. The emails were sought in a separate investigation by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel into possible Hatch Act violations by PCSO officials — including Gaffney and Sheriff Paul Babeu — and through a public records request by The Arizona Republic.
The investigation, which was done by the Pima County Attorney’s Office, eventually was closed due to insufficient evidence. While Gaffney admitted to deleting emails, he said they were backed up on the county server before he deleted them.
In a letter addressed to former Pinal County Attorney James Walsh last July 10, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall wrote that she decided not to prosecute Gaffney because there was no evidence of his “intent to fraud or deceive,” which she said is a “necessary and indispensable element of the crime of tampering or attempted tampering with a public record.”
The lawsuit claims Behring’s decision to have this matter investigated and other statements he made about Gaffney were with intent to “damage and injure” Gaffney and to embarrass and damage the Sheriff’s Office.
David Catanese, a Phoenix attorney representing Gaffney, wrote in the lawsuit that Behring’s conduct was supported by “one or more members” of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors. Gaffney filed a public records request on Monday for all emails sent to and from the official county email accounts of Behring and Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Miller.
In addition to defamation, the lawsuit claims Gaffney suffered emotional and physical distress due to Behring’s actions. Gaffney suffers from a “severe and permanent brachial plexus injury,” and Catanese said Gaffney’s condition was exacerbated by stress brought on by Behring.
Such an injury involves the network of nerves that sends signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm and hand.
In a phone interview Thursday, Catanese said Gaffney was ordered by his doctor to take time off work.
“He has a brachial plexus injury, that under stress, causes his hand to shake uncontrollably,” he said. “So when things became very stressful, the shaking got terrible … (his doctor) said, ‘not only do you need medication, you need to take some time off and probably get some counseling.’”
Gaffney took a leave of absence from PCSO, though Catanese couldn’t give the exact amount of time Gaffney took away from the job.
Other allegations made against Behring in the lawsuit include that he charged Gaffney an excessive county vehicle tax. It claims Gaffney was charged a “full vehicle lease rate” for his use of a county vehicle rather than the applicable “commuter rate,” which caused Gaffney to pay $6,026 instead of $468.
The litigation also alleges Behring accused Gaffney of theft and fraud related to a trip Gaffney took to California in November 2011 to procure $60,000 in tools and equipment for the Sheriff’s Office from the U.S. military through the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office program. Through that federal program, the county is not charged for the “used but well-conditioned equipment.”
According to the lawsuit, Behring accused Gaffney of using county resources and funds for personal use, and that he used the trip as a “vacation” with his family. The lawsuit claims Gaffney took his wife and son on the trip but that any expenses related to them were paid out of Gaffney’s pocket.
The matter was forwarded for investigation to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, but the lawsuit states DPS “refused to even take a report on the incident” because the department found the allegations meritless.
“We’ll let this play out in the courts, but it’s a shame Mr. Gaffney was targeted like this,” Catanese said. “It’s obviously conduct that can’t be allowed to go unpunished.”
Babeu also came to Gaffney’s defense in a letter he sent to Behring last week, saying Behring launched “numerous personal, professional and public attacks” on Gaffney, including allegations of criminal wrongdoing.
“The attacks and investigations launched by you and former members of the former Pinal County Attorney’s Office were filled with misinformation and blatantly false misinformation,” he said. “You are headed to Scottsdale for their city manager job; I ask that you please leave and stop with the attempts to harm Mr. Gaffney personally and professionally.”
Phoenix attorney Georgia Staton, who is representing Behring and Pinal County, said it’s her policy not to comment on cases in the press, but she did offer one statement about Gaffney’s lawsuit.
“I will say we think that the complaint lacks substance,” she said.