Jury sides with Wayne County in county jail whistleblower lawsuit

DETROIT (WXYZ) - A jury has come to a verdict in a Wayne County whistleblower case. The jury has decided that Renee Newell did not get fired for blowing the whistle on one of Sheriff Benny Napoleon’s top guys back in 2012.

The jury agreed with the county, and ruled against Newell.

Newell sued Wayne County, alleging Sheriff Benny Napoleon fired her from her job as Director of Jail Compliance because she blew the whistle on one of Napoleon’s top guys, Chief of Jails Jeriel Heard.

Former Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans testified in the high-profile whistleblower lawsuit, serving as an expert witness for Newell. He called Newell’s termination “ludicrous.”

Back in 2012, Newell reported to her boss that she had been told Chief Heard had improperly hired a woman named Tiffany Burgess. The next day, Internal Affairs started investigating Newell. Sheriff Napoleon says he later fired Newell for violating jail policy by talking to her brother on the phone when he was locked up and for other similar infractions.

“I think there was some fundamental unfairness in the way it was approached. But even having said that, the violations I saw, and the violations that I understand from 35 years of having worked in the sheriff’s office at every rank, are not violations that anybody’s ever been investigated for in my lifetime,” Evans testified.

Evans just won the primary election for the Wayne County Executive and is expected to win the general election in November. The man who will have to turn to Evans next year for his county budget – Sheriff Napoleon – testified that Newell broke the rules, and had to go.

“Was your decision to terminate Renee Newell in any way influenced by her report that Jeriel Heard improperly hired Tiffany Burgess,” asked county attorney Cheryl Yapo of Napoleon when he was on the stand.

“Absolutely not,” said Napoleon.

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