Former unit road engineer files whistleblower lawsuit against Angelina County, commissioner

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Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 1:25 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2022 at 9:34 PM CDT
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LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - Earlier this month, Chuck Walker, the former unit road engineer for Angelina County, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the county and Pct. 3 Commissioner Terry Pitts. The lawsuit claims he was wrongfully fired after he reported alleged criminal behavior by Pitts.

Angelina County’s commissioners voted to fire Walker on March 22. The decision came after Walker was indicted on a charge of tampering with a government document.

Walker is accused of approving a false entry on an employee time sheet. However, he has claimed he was let go in retaliation.

Later, County Judge Don Lymbery and two county commissioners were arrested on allegations of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.

After Walker’s termination, Angelina County citizens showed up at a commissioners’ court meeting to voice their displeasure about the decision to fire Walker and petition the commissioners to reverse their decision.

Walker’s attorney filed the lawsuit in the 201st Judicial District Court in Travis County on June 3. The lawsuit is also seeking actual damages, compensation for lost pay and benefits, “compensatory damages for future pecuniary loses,” exemplary damages, and attorney fees. Walker also wants to be reinstated as the Angelina County unit road engineer.

The lawsuit is asking that a civil penalty of $15,000 be imposed against any supervisor, including Pitts, that took an adverse action against Walker “in violation of the Whistleblower Act.”

According to the lawsuit’s petition, on Sept. 17, 2021, Walker found on at least one occasion employees of Commissioner Kermit Kennedy left work early even though their timesheets showed they were paid for working the entire day – “a clear violation of law.” After Walker verified it with his office assistant, he reported the matter to then-County Judge Don Lymbery.

Later, Walker tried to talk to County Attorney Cary Kirby about the county employees getting paid for work they didn’t do, and Kirby told him the matter would not be confidential, the petition stated.

“On November 29, 2021, in the presence of the other commissioners and Judge Lymbery, Commissioner Pitts threatened Walker that if he did not resign, he would file criminal charges against him,” the lawsuit’s petition stated. “Ultimately, criminal charges were filed against Walker.”

According to the petition, Walker saw Pitts leaving the Pct. 3 barn with documents in January. Because Walker was concerned that Pitts was removing documents without anyone’s knowledge, he reported the incident by e-mail to Lymbery, the commissioners, the county attorney, and Texas Ranger Ryan Clendennen.

Later that month, Walker learned that Pitts used county materials, equipment, and labor to repair a private driveway, the petition stated. He put it on his bi-weekly report and submitted it to the commissioners’ court. When it was discussed in open session, Commissioner Steve Smith allegedly reprimanded Walker.

Also in January, Walker learned from a private citizen that Pitts had used county materials, equipment, and labor to repair a boat ramp on Lake Sam Rayburn without the permission of the Army Corps of Engineers, the petition stated. When Walker’s bi-weekly report was reported in open session, Smith allegedly reprimanded him again.

According to the petition, while Walker was carrying out his duties as the unit road engineer, he learned that Pitts told a lender that $502,776.82 would provide enough asphalt to surface 11.1 miles of road. At the end of the year, Pitts allegedly reported that he only surfaced 7.2 miles of road.

When Walker measured the actual mileage, he found it to be only 5.6 miles, leaving $250,000 unaccounted for, the petition stated. He then reported his findings through attorney Robert Flournoy’s letter to the Angelina County District Attorney and the lawyer’s lawsuit to have Pitts removed.

“Walker observed and reviewed the commissioners’ road conditions reports as part of his job duties and responsibilities,” the petition stated. “The reports were observed to be false and were of substantially no use in determining the condition of the roads. The road conditions were signed by the commissioners under oath, and ultimately, these reports, including Pitts’, were provided to the Angelina County District Attorney.”

On Nov. 23, 20221, Pitts said in the presence of the other commissioners that unless Walker resigned immediately, Pitts would file criminal charges against Walker, the petition stated. Walker refused, and then Pitts made a motion to have Walker filed. After the motion failed, Pitts filed criminal charges against Walker, the petition stated.

The lawsuit’s petition also cited an affidavit by an Angelina County resident. The man stated that in June of 2021, his wife and daughter were visiting with one of Pitts’ employees, and the individual told them that Pitts had told him to not do very much work until he had gotten rid of the road engineer, the petition stated.

The lawsuit also accused Pitts of misuse, official oppression, and misuse of official information.

RELATED:

+ Attorney files lawsuit against Angelina County commissioners over $25 fine

+ Angelina County commissioners consider comments from public about Chuck Walker’s termination

+ Angelina County Commissioners to hold public hearing for terminated road engineer

+ Angelina County commissioners vote to remove road engineer, appoint Wright as acting county judge

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