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Judge narrows issues in $9M suit brought by Jefferson County corrections officer

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WATERTOWN — A federal judge has dismissed a substantial portion of a $9 million lawsuit brought against Jefferson County by one of its corrections officers, while allowing several key claims to proceed.

In a written ruling Wednesday, Judge David N. Hurd dismissed 21 claims in the lawsuit by Janice M. O’Dell, Ellisburg, but let six claims proceed. Among the claims dismissed are those related to race discrimination, libel, slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress and job discrimination due to legal recreational activities outside of work.

Among the remaining claims are gender discrimination, subjection to a hostile work environment related to sex, retaliation for her complaints of discrimination and misconduct, malicious prosecution, abuse of process for allegedly bringing criminal charges to silence her and deprivation of due process.

Ms. O’Dell filed the suit in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, in September against the county and its sheriff’s department. She claimed she was suspended from her job in May 2012 after being wrongfully accused of having “relationships” with inmates both at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building and outside after the inmates were released.

She was charged in a grand jury indictment handed up in June 2012 with two counts of first-degree promoting prison contraband and single counts of second-degree promoting prison contraband and official misconduct. It was alleged that she provided an inmate with cigarettes and a lighter sometime in September 2011 and that she provided an inmate with a lighter in April 2011.

In February 2013, the two first-degree contraband counts were dismissed in County Court and Ms. O’Dell was granted one-year adjournments in contemplation of dismissal on the remaining counts. This meant that if she stayed out of legal trouble, the charges would be dismissed.

Ms. O’Dell alleges, among other things, that a male supervisor and another corrections officer asked her to send them nude pictures of herself, and when she refused, sent her pictures of a penis. She also claims that a pattern of racism pervades the department and that she was placed under increased scrutiny by members of the department because of friendships with African-Americans.

Ms. O’Dell also claims, among other things, that her arrest was retaliation for her complaints about sex and race discrimination within the department and that her prosecution was malicious. She further contends that she was denied due process during her prosecution, claiming department members either solicited or offered false testimony about events “to pursue meritless criminal prosecution against her.”

The county has denied all of the claims and asked a judge to dismiss the case. A hearing was held March 21 before Judge Hurd, who reserved decision.

With the suit now winnowed to these six issues, Judge Hurd has given the county until April 25 to answer the remaining claims.

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