Last updated: September 11. 2013 12:06PM - 4671 Views
Dylan Lightfoot Staff Writer

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Former Ashe County Animal Control Officer James Walters yesterday filed a complaint in Superior Court against the County of Ashe, Ashe County Animal Control, and former County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell.

Walters seeks damages in excess of $20,000 for alleged defamation and negligence by the county and former manager, who “either singularly or in concert…caused to be printed and published, false statements concerning” his termination last year.

Walters was terminated Oct. 12, 2012, after a meeting the day before with Mitchell and Animal Control Director Joe Testerman.

According to letter from Testerman to Mitchell quoted in a Jefferson Post article, “Walters did not follow procedure nor conduct his actions in a professional manner” in responding to a Sept. 27, 2012, call “regarding an injured and suffering dog in the Beaver Creek area that had been shot by animal control that morning….”

According to an email, provided to the Post last year, from Testerman to Mitchell regarding the incident, animal control had been attempting to capture a German shepherd-type dog that was acting aggressively toward area residents.

When traps set Sept. 17-27 failed to capture the animal, Testerman gave approval to shoot the dog “when a safe opportunity was presented.”

Shot by Animal Control officers on Sept. 27, 2012, the dog survived and escaped, but was found that night in an area resident’s basement.

According to Testerman’s letter to Mitchell, Walters did not respond to several calls to Animal Control that night about the wounded dog, and “did lie to me and the county manager regarding the information he received.”

After Walters’ firing, Mitchell was quoted in the Post article, “He was terminated for failure to appropriately do his job.”

Walters’ termination was upheld on appeal before the Ashe County Board of Commissioners Nov. 5, 2012.

Mitchell provided the Post with the letter and emails regarding the incident upon request.

In his complaint, Walters alleges that “defamatory statements made by Dr. Mitchell were made within the scope of her authority, and the County is therefore liable….”

“Alternatively, if it is determined…defamatory statements were made outside the scope of her authority, she is personally liable…,” according to the complaint.

Walters suffered “affront to his dignity, embarrassment, and damage to his professional reputation,” and “deprivation of competitive compensation, and loss of livelihood,” according to the complaint.

Richard J. Rutledge, attorney for Walters, today declined to comment on the case.

Mitchell, who is not yet represented by counsel in the case, also declined to comment.

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