In response to a federal lawsuit filed against Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter claiming that he refused to allow a religious accommodation for a now-fired deputy who said his religious beliefs prevented him from training female colleagues, Carter has responded that it was the deputy’s “toxic attitude, insubordination, his constant complaining” that caused the firing.
Further, the response – filed Wednesday in North Carolina’s middle district – claims that Manuel Torres had trained multiple other female deputies before saying his religion precluded him from doing so, and that the real reason for his refusal was “he was tired of arguing with his wife” and “she did not want him working with female deputies.”
“Plaintiff had previously trained new female deputies in the past while serving as a Lee County Deputy Sheriff, including Deputy (now Detective) Turnmire in 2015, without expressing any complaint or apparent reservations in doing so,” the response reads. “As part of training Deputy Turnmire, the Plaintiff rode with her alone in his patrol car and otherwise was alone with her for significant periods of time.”
“On or about June 15, 2017, the Plaintiff expressed to a fellow male Deputy Sheriff that Plaintiff’s wife had demanded he not allow Deputy Burton to ride with him in his patrol car and that Plaintiff and his wife had been arguing about it on a daily basis,” the document continues. “It is further admitted that the Plaintiff subsequently complained to his Sergeant … that he no longer wanted to work with Deputy Casey Burton, whom Plaintiff had trained during several previous shifts without complaint, because the Plaintiff and his wife were having marital problems and that she did not want him working with female deputies.”
Torres is seeking $300,000 in damages from the sheriff’s office, as well as from the towns of Apex and Siler City, both of whom he said denied him employment based on information they’d received from the sheriff’s office.
According to Carter’s response, Torres’ superior officer Sgt. Jeff Oldham (who suffered serious injuries in July while chasing a suspect) “did his best to accommodate Plaintiff’s request to not ride or work with Deputy Burton.”
“However, given the small size of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the limited number of deputies on duty during certain times of the day and night, and the limited availability of experienced senior officers like the Plaintiff who were qualified to train new Deputies, it was not always possible to accommodate the Plaintiff’s request,” reads the document. “Accommodating the plaintiff’s demands that he never have to work alone with female Deputies imposed a serious hardship upon the Sheriff of Lee County.”
The response also indicates that Torres’ superiors asked him if his religious beliefs would preclude him from coming to the aid of a lone female officer and that his “half-hearted response” caused concern.
Torres is also claimed to have been “openly bitter” about a promotion that Oldham received over him, and that Chief Deputy Randall Butler had “counseled (Torres) regarding his ongoing and open disrespect for Sergeant Oldham.”
Finally, the response states that Torres was “openly disrespectful and hostile during a telephone conversation” with another superior that ended with Torres hanging up the phone. That conversation took place on a Friday; the response says Torres was terminated the following Monday.
Carter declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. Torres did not respond to a message Thursday afternoon. You can read the entire response here.