Lawsuit: Kzoo Co. sheriff demoted 2016 election opponent


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A new federal lawsuit accuses the Kalamazoo County sheriff of demoting a deputy because he ran against him in the 2016 election.

In 2010, Thomas Swafford became a full-time corrections deputy for Kalamazoo County.

The federal lawsuit states that Swafford lost the democratic primary for sheriff to incumbent Richard Fuller on Aug. 2, 2016. Then on Aug. 4 the suit claims Swafford was removed from his position as jail training officer without explanation.

In November, Swafford announced on his Facebook page that despite his disappointment, he intends to run for sheriff again in 2020.

Two months later the suit goes on to claim Sheriff Fuller called Swafford into his office on Jan. 4 and said he would not swear Swafford in as deputy. It also alleges Fuller told Swafford he would continue with full pay but would lose his power to arrest people.

Richard Fuller
An undated photo of Richard Fuller.

During that office interaction, Fuller also allegedly demanded Swafford to turn over his gun, duty belt and badges — meaning he is now ranked as a civilian employee for the department.

Swafford’s attorney talked to 24 Hour News 8 on the phone and says his client should be reinstated as deputy because his client’s constitutional right to run for office without retaliation was violated.

“As far as I can determine from his employment record, he doesn’t even have any late for works. He was an exemplary officer, except that he ran against Sheriff Fuller,” Collin Nyeholt of Law Offices of Casey D. Conklin, PLC told 24 Hour News 8.

That demotion led to Swafford losing his Michigan Commission of Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) license, which a person must have to do certain peace officer duties.

The lawsuit explains Swafford would routinely make arrests at the jail if people turned themselves in, but can no longer do so. The lawsuit also cites Michigan laws that open Swafford up for a felony charge or a lawsuit brought by an inmate if he performs peace officer duties without a license.

Nyeholt said the demotion has also led to a loss of authority over jail inmates.

“They will make comments, ‘You ain’t a deputy anymore.’ They’re aware that he’s been demoted from his position. That’s really a safety issue,” He said.

To further their point that Fuller is retaliating against Swafford, the suit also cites a performance evaluation done by his direct supervisor two months after Swafford’s demotion. The March 2017 evaluation examined the last year and noted Swafford either met or exceeded expectations in every category.

The sheriff’s department wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit. The only explanation for the demotion in the suit cites a statement from Undersheriff Paul Matyas.

It reads: “Sheriff Fuller no longer has the necessary trust to make him willing to invest in the law enforcement abilities of Corrections Deputy Thomas Swafford… [t]he Office of the Sheriff is a constitutional position and the sheriff has the discretion regarding whom he swears in as deputy.”