Former Wayne County jail employee sues saying she was fired for reporting wrongdoing by her boss

DETROIT (WXYZ) - For nearly three years, Renee Newell was in charge of compliance in the Wayne County Jail.  But she says her life was destroyed in May after she blew the whistle on some of her bosses.  On top of losing her job – Newell says her home was recently raided by her former employer.

"It was seven or eight officers, they were bamming and kicking on the door," said Newell as she described how

a team of Wayne County Sheriff's deputies and Detroit Police officers raided her home on July 26.  She says her 28-year-old daughter, who was home alone at the time, was terrified.

"They rushed in here, rushed her into here, and started telling her to get down, and lay down, and you're going to jail," said Newell.

According to the search warrant, the deputies wanted Newell's computers, laptops, and hard drives.

Newell says she was fired from her job as Director of Jail Compliance after she blew the whistle on some alleged wrong-doing among a few of the top executives in the Wayne County Sheriff's department.

Sheriff's officials confirm they searched Newell's home because they have probable cause to believe that she sent an email that accuses Wayne County Executive Chief Eric Smith of a crime he didn't commit.

"Did you send that email," 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo asked Newell.

"No I did not," said Newell.

"What were they really looking for," asked Catallo.

 "I believe they were looking for any evidence that they might have – or that I might have to support my whistleblower case. And my wrongful discharge case, because the things that they took, they took flash drives from my upstairs bedroom, they went in my drawer that had my panties," said Newell.

Newell's attorney just filed a whistleblower lawsuit.  She's suing Jail Chief Jeriel Heard and Chief Smith – alleging she was fired after she told top people in the Sheriff's department that Heard had improperly hired his niece.   The lawsuit alleges that as soon as Heard caught wind that concerns had been raised, "Heard immediately contacted [Newell] and told her that the person who contacted the top executives about his niece's hiring would be terminated."

Newell also says she sent this 15 page memo to the Sheriff detailing the violations of rules by Heard and others.  Two weeks later she was fired.

"I've never been subjected to anything like this before in my entire life, and I have been a civil servant for 26 years.  I did nothing wrong, and that's why I felt it was so unfair that I would be discharged," said Newell.

Undersheriff Dan Pfannes disputes the claims in the lawsuit and says no relatives of the Jail Chief have been hired.

"She was a trusted employee at one point: an appointee of the Sheriff.  She abused that trust, she abused her position. She was investigated, she lied during the investigation, and she was terminated for it," said Pfannes.

Undersheriff Pfannes says Newell violated jail safety protocol while her brother was as an inmate inside the jail more than a year ago.  Pfannes says about a dozen sworn officers have been fired for the same protocol violations.

Newell says she followed the rules while her brother was locked up– and she says it never became an problem until after she started exposing Heard's rule violations.

The Undersheriff also defends the search of Newell's home.

"We believed that criminal was occurring and that criminal evidence would be found in her home…  A crime – not an internal matter for which she got fired but a crime," said Pfannes.

No charges have been filed against Renee Newell.

7 Action News checked with the Wayne County Prosecutors office; one of the alleged crimes cited in the search warrant was Criminal Slander.

They were able to check their records back to the year 2000, and in that time, they've never charged anyone with Criminal Slander.

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