Madison County Sheriff’s office responds to wide-ranging sexual harassment lawsuit

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The Madison County Sheriff's Office has issued a statement responding to a federal lawsuit that alleges the sheriff's office fired a female deputy for filing a complaint of sexual harassment against her supervisor.

The lawsuit was filed by former deputy Shelby Holt on Sept. 8 and alleges a culture of harassment, retaliation and cover-up. 

The Madison County Sheriff's Office initially declined comment, but through Capt. Michael Salomonsky, commander of the Criminal Investigations Division, it issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

"It is the policy of the Madison County Sheriff's Office not to specifically comment on pending litigation, as in any allegation of misconduct and or criminal activity each complaint is audited, investigated and handled properly as required by Law.

"The Madison County Sheriff's Office has began a process of self reporting any complaint that it feels should be referred to another State or Federal Agency for examination. The allegations made in the lawsuit will be settled through the legal process. We will hold our comments until all the facts about the allegations are brought to light."

WHNT News 19 has called Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning's office on Tuesday and Wednesday seeking comment. We were told the Sheriff was not in. Madison County Attorney Jeff Rich told us he doesn't typically comment on pending litigation.

Along with the sexual harassment allegations, Holt's lawsuit contends male employees are not punished for misbehavior ranging from infidelity to retaliation to possible cover-up of crimes.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong issued a statement Tuesday expressing concern about the allegations.

"While it is our custom not to discuss pending litigation, any time allegations of this nature are made there is cause for concern," Strong said. "I trust that the Sheriff of Madison County would not tolerate this type of accused conduct and will thoroughly investigate any and all charges."

New Madison Police Chief David Jernigan is also named in the lawsuit, with allegations about how he handled Holt's complaint and issues of retaliation. Jernigan is out of the country, the Madison Police Department said.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley said the city's background check of Jernigan found favorable reviews throughout his career, but the Mayor said they will discuss the claims with Jernigan when he returns home.