LATTA, SC (WMBF) – In a strongly-worded rebuke to a letter sent Monday by former Police Chief Crystal Moore's lawyer, the town of Latta's attorney says that the town's administrator does have the sole authority to fire Moore, and did so not in retaliation, but after a series of reprimands in her file, and after a suspension that failed to improve her attitude.
Latta's attorney Janet Altman Byrd confirmed that no vote was taken or needed in or out of the town council's executive session on September 8 to fire Moore, and her termination was discussed and informally approved by the council during an open meeting on August 18 at a special emergency public meeting.
After the emergency meeting, Town Administrator Jarett Taylor attempted a suspension of Moore, "to see if things improved thereafter," Byrd wrote, but "following the suspension, Mrs. Moore's attitude did not improve and Mr. Taylor learned of additional morale issues occurring in the police department."
Byrd states that the council is "well aware of the policies and procedures of our Town. We do not need Third parties from out of Town instructing us how to operate. Further as you should be aware South Carolina is an employment at will state. Therefore, employment is maintained only at the will of the employer. Thus, Mrs. Moore's termination stands."
Moore's Columbia-based attorney M. Malissa Burnette stated in the letter Monday that state law prohibits the council from firing Moore without taking a public vote in open session. The letter also asked when Moore should return to work, and said she expected full pay and benefits to continue with no deduction.
Byrd's response to Burnette's letter continues:
Byrd then explains that after attempting to contact Taylor, Moore's responsibility was to contact one of the three remaining persons in the chain of command, none of whom received a phone call from Moore that evening.
The letter continues:
Byrd concludes the letter with the salutation: "With kind regards, I am very truly yours, Janet Altman Byrd, Town of Latta Attorney."
Burnette responded to the letter with this statement: "It is a lovely public relations piece, but it does not improve the Town's legal position. I regret we will be forced to resort to formal proceedings."
On Friday, Taylor said the main reason he let Moore go deals with a sexual harassment complaint against a town employee that was not properly filed by the former police chief.
Moore said the victim came to her after attempting to go to the town administrator first. She added she is related by marriage to the alleged perpetrator and asked a Dillon County Sheriff's deputy to file the harassment complaint in order to prevent a conflict of interest.
"It's just such turmoil and a whirlwind of effects," Moore said, becoming emotional at times. "I feel like I'm drowning. I feel like I'm suffocating ... and all I want to do is do what's right. All I did was a victim came to me and reported a sexual harassment. She had already talked to town council members and felt that nothing had been done and the person wasn't disciplined and was still having these attacks."
According to Taylor, firing Moore after Thursday's town council meeting was not an easy decision, as he has always stood behind her.
Burnette said the real issue underlying her firing was the town administrator wanted to divert attention from his failure to adhere to law and policy when a female employee reported that a department head under Taylor's supervision had been sexually harassing her.
"Taylor did not conduct an immediate investigation or take appropriate action as required by law and policy, but instead protected the man and the sexual harassment continued," Burnette said.
The attorney added Moore is protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and they are filing a lawsuit against the town of Latta.
Taylor said he released the statement in order to clarify the town's actions regarding the sexual harassment claim and the manner in which it was reported. Click here to read the full statement.
Moore is also currently running for Dillon County Sheriff and indicated Thursday's firing would not stop her campaign.
Previously, Moore said the town's mayor fired her in 2014 for being openly gay after 25 years serving with the Latta Police Department. She was eventually rehired by her city.
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