WOODSTOCK – A former Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office deputy must repay the law enforcement agency for training costs because she resigned before the end of her contract, a judge ruled Monday.
General District Court Judge W. Dale Houff found in favor of the Sheriff’s Office, which sought a monetary judgment against Laura Bridges for $8,800, plus 9 percent interest and attorneys costs, totaling more than $11,000. Houff advised Bridges and her attorney David Silek they had 10 days to consider any further action they may take in the case.
Houff said in his finding that evidence showed both Bridges and the Sheriff’s Office appeared to have made mistakes related to the case. However, the judge said he found no evidence to show that anyone in the Sheriff’s Office purposefully altered or changed any of the documents in question.
Houff had continued the trial from Feb. 25 on the Sheriff’s Office warrant in debt filed in Shenandoah County General District by the agency’s attorney Melisa G. Michelsen. Houff heard testimony Monday from current and former sworn agents with the Sheriff’s Office and then closing arguments from Michelsen and Silek.
The plaintiffs contended that Bridges signed a reimbursement agreement upon her hiring in November 2015 and, by signing the document, knew that she must repay the Sheriff’s Office $9,000 to cover some of the cost of her training if she resigned prior to 30 months with the agency. Bridges resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in spring 2018. Silek said in his closing argument that his client quit the agency because she no longer felt comfortable working in the department. Silek did not provide more details about Bridges’ reasons for resigning.
Michelsen said evidence failed to support Silek’s argument that the Sheriff’s Office acted on a scheme to alter Bridges’ agreement document. Silek had tried to prove that the first page of Bridges’ agreement, which she recalled required 24-months employment or repayment of $16,000, had been removed and replaced by one that included the 30-month and $9,000 conditions. Staple holes for the first page did not line up with those through the rest of the document, Silek said.
Several witnesses testified that they did not recall any time a notary public witnessed them signing their employment agreements.
Witnesses testified that the Sheriff’s Office changed its employment agreement in October 2015 to increase the reimbursement period from two years to 30 months to give deputies more needed experience after their law enforcement training.
Bridges testified during the first part of the trial in February that she understood the reimbursement agreement included a 24-month employment period and a $16,000 payback amount. Silek tried to show through testimony and documents submitted as evidence that Bridges and at least one other deputy understood their agreements included the 24-month or $16,000 condition.
The case came down to memory vs. documents and that the former can fade over time, Michelsen said in her closing. The attorney said Bridges likely “misremembered” the agreement that she signed included a 30-month contract period, not 24 months as she testified.