(WXYZ) - Wayne County’s likely next CEO is on the witness stand in a whistleblower civil lawsuit today. Warren Evens is testifying as an expert witness in the case, since he previously served as Wayne County Sheriff. Renee Newell, the former Director of Jail Compliance is suing the county, alleging Sheriff Benny Napoleon fired her after she blew the whistle on the Director of Jails, Chief Jeriel Heard.
Newell says she was terminated after she reported to her superiors that she’d been told that Heard improperly hired a woman using jail commissary funds.
Sheriff Napoleon has testified that he did not fire Newell for blowing the whistle, but rather because she violated jail policies by having contact with her brother when he was locked up in the jail.
Evans said it was "ludicrous" to fire someone for the alleged infractions the Sheriff accused Newell of committing, and told the jury the investigation into Newell was not balanced and appeared be to an “investigation directed to a specific finding.”
“I think there was some fundamental unfairness in the way it was approached, the violations I saw, from 35 years [in the Sheriff’s department] are not violations that anybody’s ever been investigated for in my lifetime,” said Evans.
He also testified that the timing of the investigation into Newell appeared to be linked with the timing of when she informed her bosses about the alleged improper hire. The day after she told Napoleon’s Chief of Staff about the hire, Internal Affairs investigators started looking for recorded jail phone calls that were made 15 months prior, despite the fact that IA investigators routinely run checks on inmate phone calls. Evans said if there had been a serious issue with the phone calls with Newell’s inmate brother, the department would have acted much sooner.
"Isn’t it pretty clear that Ms. Newell is trying to circumvent the phone system? The policy about the phone system," asked Wayne County Principal Attorney Cheryl Yapo."
"No," said Evans. "What's clear from this is, she's trying her best to balance two worlds - the love of her brother and stay within the confines of the jail rules."
"Doesn’t it concern you at all that an individual in such a high position could be influenced as she is obviously, by her brother," asked Yapo.
"What concerns me is the amount of energy and impetus put in much ado about nothing related to this woman," said Evans.
Also on the witness stand Monday was Wayne County Auditor General Willie Mayo. Mayo testified about a high-level review that his staff did on the jail commissary shortly after Newell alleged Chief Heard had been breaking commissary fund rules. Mayo’s report uncovered 15 areas of concern, but only 4 of those concerned the commissary board, which was led by Chief Heard at the time. Mayo testified that he found no fraud and no crimes were committed. His staff recommended that some changes be made in the operation of the commissary, which is supposed to benefit the jail inmates.
Testimony is expected to continue through much of this week.
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