Bradley County deputy claims firing was political shot over Watson support

photo Eric Watson, from left, Jim Ruth
Arkansas-Ole Miss Live Blog

The ostensible reason for firing former Bradley County deputy Dallas Longwith was that he was seen mowing the yard in December, wearing only his underwear.

The real reason Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth fired him a year ago, Longwith claims in a federal lawsuit, is Longwith was open about plans to support state Rep. Eric Watson if he runs against Ruth next year.

"It had nothing to do with work-related stuff - it was just to get rid of me because I had an affiliation with the man who might be the next sheriff of Bradley County," Longwith told the Times Free Press.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, seeks $1.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

In it, Longwith claims that Ruth, a Republican, "systematically demoted, cut pay and/or changed the shifts of Sheriff's deputies who had openly supported" Democrat Steve Lawson.

Ruth could not immediately be reached for comment late Thursday.

The suit also claims that Watson, a Sheriff's Office captain and fellow Republican, "was given the choice of either being fired or resigning voluntarily. He chose to resign in the face of threats of termination. ... (t)he plaintiff would assert that he was effectively terminated to eliminate a potential political rival."

Watson said he is considering running against Ruth in the 2014 Republican primary, but hasn't made a final decision.

"Law enforcement has always been my dream, always been my career," he said. "A lot of people are showing encouragement to me to run for sheriff cause of my background in law enforcement."

Longwith's lawsuit says the reason given for his firing was a "false complaint" by a "convicted felon" that Longwith had been seen mowing the yard in his underwear. The suit states Longwith was first suspended, then fired for conduct unbecoming an officer.

"The Plaintiff asserts that this was a subterfuge to rid the Department of a potential Eric Watson supporter just as Sheriff Ruth had punished those who supported Lawson in the election," the suit states.

Longwith said he's not been able to find steady work in law enforcement field since he was fired, and that his health has been affected.

"I was going to retire from there, then they messed that up," he said.