Sergeant alleges backlash for reporting sexual harassment, supporting sheriff’s opponent 

Officer 10-7, out of service

click to enlarge Sgt. Keith Duda alleges the Sheriff’s Office targeted him after he reported misdeeds by a fellow officer. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Sgt. Keith Duda alleges the Sheriff’s Office targeted him after he reported misdeeds by a fellow officer.
Keith Duda spent a dozen years at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office racking up commendations and working his way to sergeant in the crime reduction and fugitive unit.

Things went south, though, after he filed a complaint in November 2016 alleging a female deputy was sexually harassed by Lt. Bill Huffor, one of Sheriff Bill Elder’s staunchest supporters, who’s married to Elder’s campaign manager and chief of staff, Janet Huffor. Since then, Sgt. Duda was passed over for a promotion, and his daughter, Caitlyn Duda, a security technician at the county jail, was dealt what she considers harsh discipline for cussing, a relatively minor infraction, reported by Bill Huffor.

Sgt. Duda, a supporter of Mike Angley, Elder’s Republican primary election opponent, says he’s now fighting to keep his job after he was accused of on-duty campaigning for Angley and placed on paid administrative leave. Angley lost to Elder on June 26, and Sgt. Duda denies he did anything wrong, contending Elder is retaliating against him.

Elder declined to comment, as did Bill and Janet Huffor and other sheriff’s personnel. The Sheriff’s Office also denied the Independent’s request for documents surrounding Sgt. Duda’s administrative leave. County Attorney Amy Folsom says the records can’t be released because of a pending investigation of Sgt. Duda by an outside employment investigator hired by her office in March 2018.

But Elder’s campaign website carries this message: “No one should feel obligated or pressured to engage in this political process in any way. I WILL NOT ASK YOU TO MAKE A COMMITMENT TO MY RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN OR ASK YOU TO CHOOSE SIDES!”

Sgt. Duda, who’s trained as a negotiator and ran the crisis intervention program, asserts that he’s being singled out with false allegations of political activity while Elder supporters openly campaign on county time with no threat of disciplinary action. That double standard, he says, sends a message to the rank and file: “If you’re not supporting Elder completely, you will be terminated.”

Sgt. Duda and his daughter have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and are contemplating a lawsuit. It would be the third filed against Elder by current or past employees since he took office on Dec. 31, 2014.

On Nov. 13, 2016, while attending Caitlyn Duda’s birthday party, Sgt. Duda overheard a female deputy say she’d documented several instances in which Lt. Bill Huffor made unwanted comments and actions toward her, such as conducting a “pat down search” for an unknown reason. As a supervisor, Sgt. Duda is duty bound to “promptly report any discriminatory, retaliatory or harassing conduct,” according to Sheriff’s Office policy. The younger Duda reported the matter to the Sheriff’s Office, as well.

An investigation deemed Huffor’s conduct unbecoming of a sheriff’s employee, and led to him being required to attend training on supervisor roles and responsibilities; and a letter of counseling was placed in his personnel file. In a Jan. 20, 2017 memo to Bill Huffor, Cmdr. Rob King noted Huffor said to the female deputy, “People might think we are doing something in here,” which King noted “implied immoral, indecent or lewd behavior.” Huffor also called the deputy from her assigned ward into his office, “leaving another deputy to work two wards,” King wrote, terming the practice “not proper ... when the reason you wanted to see her had nothing to do with work.”

Five months later, Caitlyn Duda, who was interviewed in the Huffor case, learned she was under investigation for swearing on the job — she says an inmate grabbed her and she said “get your fucking hands off me” — not unheard of in the jail, Sgt. Duda says. She was given a letter of reprimand, six months probation and four hours of training. She later was told it was Bill Huffor who instigated the investigation.

“Lt. Huffor used his authority as a lieutenant to commence an investigation into a witness against him in an investigation into allegations that he committed sexual harassment,” Sgt. Duda says in his November 2017 EEOC complaint.

In May 2017, shortly after his daughter’s disciplinary action, Sgt. Duda vied for a position with Metro Vice Narcotics and Intelligence, for which his commander told him he would be “a great fit.” Moreover, his supervisor said in a recommendation letter that Sgt. Duda’s “dedication to the office and work ethic are extraordinary.”

After applying and shadowing a VNI sergeant for a day, Sgt. Duda, on June 9, set up an interview for June 15. That same day, June 9, Caitlyn Duda filed a complaint with the county Human Resources Department, alleging her disciplinary action was a form of retaliation by Bill Huffor. “Within hours” of her contacting HR, Sgt. Duda was told a commander scotched his interview, and three days later the commander told Sgt. Duda the other candidate would be chosen, not explaining why the competitive process had been abandoned, Sgt. Duda’s EEOC complaint says.

The Sheriff’s Office, the complaint continues, “retaliated against me because of my prior report about Lt. Huffor’s alleged sexual harassment, and my daughter’s complaint of retaliation against Lt. Huffor.”

On June 17, 2017, Sgt. Duda filed a retaliation claim with the county, citing a Sheriff’s Office policy that says it has “zero tolerance for retaliation and is committed to taking reasonable steps to protect from retaliation members who, in good faith, engage in permitted behavior or who report or participate in the reporting or investigation of workplace issues.”
On March 26, 2018, Sgt. Duda filed two reports with the Professional Standards division alleging that Bill Huffor had intimidated a retired deputy and a currently serving deputy, who served as delegates at the Republican County Assembly on March 24. Retiree Les Milligan, an Angley supporter, told the Indy that Huffor put his finger in his face while calling him “a big piece of shit” and “motherfucker” in the presence of several sheriff’s commanders, who did nothing to intervene (News, April 18). The active duty deputy was similarly attacked by Huffor and left the assembly without voting, Sgt. Duda’s complaint says.

Those complaints and one filed by Milligan came to naught when the Sheriff’s Office was “unable to substantiate any policy violation(s),” the ruling states. A report filed with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where the assembly was held, remains open.

On May 31, Janet Huffor made a Facebook post naming Sgt. Duda and several others, saying “gloves are off.” Bill Huffor shared the post, adding, “Does Keith Duda campaign for Mike Angkey [sic] while on duty? Enough is enough!!” He also was highly critical of Angley “and his band of thugs.” Sgt. Duda was listed on Angley’s campaign website as an “Angley’s posse” member. Sgt. Duda’s attorney notified the county of the posts, which were taken down. (The Huffors’ and other employees’ names are listed as endorsing Elder on his campaign website.)

Three weeks later, after Sgt. Duda returned from family leave due to his wife’s illness, he was placed on leave pending an investigation of claims he’d participated in political activities while on duty and used his position off duty for political purposes. Sgt. Duda, who voted for Elder in 2014, says that employees who back the sheriff haven’t been investigated. One photo on Elder’s Facebook campaign page shows seven uniformed employees and two others holding pictures of fallen officers beside Elder. Sources say Janet Huffor, meantime, spent most of July 6 at the Clerk and Recorder’s Office observing the primary election audit process on Elder’s behalf.

While sheriff’s deputies serve at the pleasure of the sheriff, Sgt. Duda’s attorney, Ian Kalmanowitz, says the sheriff can’t legally discipline or terminate an employee for not supporting his bid for re-election, because that would violate the employee’s First Amendment rights. “If you want to have a policy,” he says, “you can’t only apply that policy against one person and allow a supporter of the incumbent to go after people.”

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