Jail group suit over firing settled in Hagerstown

July 21, 1991|By Thom Loverro | Thom Loverro,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

HAGERSTOWN -- A lawsuit filed by a Washington County man, who claimed he was fired from his job because of his off-work religious activities, has been settled out of court.

Richard D. Wiles charged in a $2 million lawsuit last year that the executive director of the non-profit American Jail Association, former Washington County Sheriff Francis R. "Dick" Ford, fired Mr. Wiles because of his part-time work to establish a ministry to help find missing children.

But before the suit went to trial, it was settled out of court, Mr. Wiles confirmed last week. As part of the agreement between Mr. Wiles and association officials, he said, the terms of the settlement could not be disclosed.

Meanwhile, officials with the U.S. Department of Justice have not yet released the results of an investigation into the alleged misuse of federal grants awarded to the Hagerstown-based association, which works to advance professional training and improve jail standards and conditions.

The grants were administered through the federal Office of Justice Programs, which has had its share of problems.

Last year, a House of Representatives subcommittee report criticized the office for poor management, unauthorized use of funds and lack of proper monitoring of the grants that it issues.

Mr. Wiles, while working as marketing director for the association, also worked in his off-hours to organize Prayers for the Children Inc., a non-profit effort that would create prayer groups and produce fliers about missing and abused children nationwide.

He charged that when Mr. Ford found out about his work through an article in a local weekly newspaper, he began pressuring Mr. Wiles to stop his religious activities. He was fired soon after in August 1990.

He also charged in the suit that Mr. Ford, an unsuccessful candidate for county commissioner, used the association's offices and equipment for campaign work without reporting those activities as in-kind contributions on campaign finance reports.

In an interview earlier this year, Mr. Ford denied the charges, saying that Mr. Wiles' firing "had nothing to do with religion."

Mr. Ford could not be reached for comment.

Norma P. Lammers, association president and executive officer of the California Board of Corrections, was also named in the suit. She said that even though Mr. Ford had maintained that the firing was legal, the association chose to settle the matter "because sometimes it's just simpler to settle these things."

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