Keyser PD officer files lawsuit against city, chief

Staff Writer
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Mineral Daily News-Tribune

By Liz Beavers

Tribune Managing Editor

KEYSER - As the Keyser City Council was scheduled to discuss an officer’s back pay during their regular meeting on Wednesday, another officer is awaiting a trial in federal court in regard to his pay and other issues.

Officer Mark Yonker filed a civil suit against the City of Keyser and Keyser Police chief Paul Sabin in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg in June.

In the complaint, Yonker claimed that Keyser PD “officers were engaging in six hours of overtime at least every other week which was going completely uncompensated.”

According to an amended document filed with the court in August, Yonker claims that officers “work shifts of 11.5 hours per day four days a week,” … but “are instructed by defendants to record on their time sheets only 10 hours per day of work … As a result, plaintiff, as a City of Keyser police officer, has worked six hours of uncompensated overtime very week he’s been employed.”

Yonker also alleged that when the pay issue was disclosed to supervisors, Sabin “threatened to alter all officers’ schedules to the negative and publicly blame (Yonker) for the change.”

Yonker also alleges that this disclosure and other accusations he made  that the Keyser Police Department was failing to abide by the West Virginia Civil Service Act resulted in reprisals against him, including “disparate treatment regarding promotions and failure to promote” and “withholding of owed wages.”

Yonker said he complained about the reprisals and disparate treatment to the Keyser mayor and city administrator, “and neither have taken any action to redress the systemic wrongs which have been perpetrated against (Yonker).”

The administrator at the time the suit was filed has since left that position.

Also according to the complaint filed by attorney Christian Riddell, representing Yonker, the issues have “caused (Yonker) such emotional trauma that he has been put on medical leave by his physician because of the effect that the stress has placed on (his) pre-existing blood pressure.

“Plaintiff has suffered reputational damages, emotional distress, and physical pain and suffering as a direct result of defendant Sabin’s defamatory statements.” It goes on to state that he has also suffered “economic damages in the form of lost wages and pension benefits.”

Yonker is therefore asking for damages in regard to lost wages, emotional distress, physical pain and suffering, and attorney fees, among other relief.

Yonker has asked for a trial by jury.

Both the City of Keyser and Paul Sabin, represented by attorney Jeff Foster of the firm Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso in Charleston, filed motions to dismiss the case in July.

In the motions, Foster states “the court should dismiss a complaint if it does not contain enough facts,” and that Yonker did not include enough information about his schedule worked, what the altered schedule consisted of, what his hourly wage is, or “any factual details in support of his overtime claim.”

Also according to the motion, “The interpretive regulations promulgated by the Department of Labor establish that overtime pay is owed to law enforcement officers ‘when the ratio of the number of hours worked to the number of days in the work period exceeds the ratio of 171 hours to 28 days.’ … In other words, for law enforcement employees … for a one-week work period, overtime compensation is not required until more than 43 hours are worked in a week.”

Sabin also submitted an answer to the claims against him, saying he and the city “deny any and all allegations …that allege or imply any negligence, wrongdoing, intentional tort, unlawful act, violation of statute, violation of common law, Constitutional violation, or other fault; (or that) that allege or imply any  responsibility, failure to meet a responsibility, or violations of duty ….”

U.S. District Judge Gina M. Groh directed the parties to enter into mediation by Sept. 30.

Should the case proceed that far, a jury trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 26 in Martinsburg.