Robert Standeford sued after leaving the sheriff’s office, claiming he suffered whistleblower retaliation
By WILLIAM SNOWDEN
The lawsuit by former Wakulla deputy Robert Standeford against the sheriff’s office for wrongful termination was before Wakulla Circuit Judge Layne Smith on a motion to dismiss the case last week.
Judge Smith did not rule on the matter at the hearing, held via Zoom on Thursday, Dec. 21.
In the lawsuit, filed in 2021, Standeford has claimed he was a whistleblower and was forced to resign after he complained about such matters as anti-Muslim bias in the agency – Standeford’s mother is of Middle Eastern descent – as well as issues such as not being provided with adequate equipment as a School Resource Officer.
The sheriff’s office reportedly gave Standeford an option to resign or be terminated after he was charged with perjury for lying at a trial at the Division of Administrative Hearings. Transcripts of the hearing indicated Standeford claimed that he had some sort of military service in the Middle East after 9/11, and that he had a dog that is a certified service animal. It’s undisputed that he lied in his testimony. The perjury charge was eventually dropped by the state attorney’s office, but a Giglio letter was filed – which indicates a law enforcement officer has a history of being untruthful and their testimony is not credible. It is often a career-ending development for a law enforcement officer.
The sheriff’s office also contended that Standeford made comments to other deputies that he served as a U.S. Marine, but he has not served in the military. Standeford has indicated that other deputies might have misunderstood that it’s actually his son who is in the Marine Corps.
Avery McKnight, attorney for the sheriff, argued the case should be dismissed because Standeford is unable to establish that he was a whistleblower engaged in some statutorily protected activity who suffered an adverse employment action.
Standeford’s attorney, Marie Mattox, argued at the hearing that there was disparate treatment of deputies who faced the same action of being untruthful – and Mattox focused on former deputy Colton Sheridan, who resigned earlier this year rather than be terminated after an Internal Affairs investigation found he was lying in his reports about his reasons for traffic stops and other untruthfulness. (The Sun ran a report on allegations about Sheridan in the Oct. 19 issue.)
When Judge Smith raised a question about Standeford being Giglio-impaired, Mattox answered that Sheridan’s lies were worse: “Standeford lied about himself,” she said. “But Sheridan made false statements in arresting people.” She noted the state attorney’s office refused to write a Giglio letter on Sheridan.
Mattox presented a timeline in which Standeford was called in for a meeting with Undersheriff Billy Jones on March 10, 2020 in which Standeford claimed to raise issues. The next day, March 11, Jones went to Internal Affairs with concerns about Standeford’s truthfulness. On April 2, 2020 Standeford was given the option by Jones to resign or be fired.
Mattox also argued that choice presented Standeford with duress and he was unable to consult with his lawyer before submitting his resignation.
The attorneys are submitting additional materials to the court and Judge Smith indicated he will rule after the first of the year.