A civil action filed in federal court this week alleges that U.S. Marshal Loren "Squirrel" Carl and his chief deputy discriminated against a deputy marshal because he is Hispanic.
In the suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Lexington, Deputy U.S. Marshal Edwin Peluyera, 35, a former Richmond resident of Puerto Rican descent, alleges a "pattern of discriminatory employment decisions" resulting in his punishment; that he "suffered retaliation" for filing a discrimination complaint against the marshals service; and that he was "forced to work in an environment which is hostile to him because of his race." Peluyera now lives in Lexington.
Carl, 64, who has served as U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Kentucky since 2010, did not return calls to his Lexington office Thursday and Friday. He is former Woodford County sheriff.
In a U.S. Department of Justice report filed with the civil action, Carl and Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Timothy Stec denied discriminating against Peluyera and explained their actions as a matter of following policy. The report said Carl and Stec "consistently provided legitimate non-discriminatory explanations, stating that they were motivated only by complainant's past behavior and policy violations."
Peluyera alleges that Carl and Stec submitted false affidavits to the Justice Department in order to justify acts of discrimination and retaliation.
The suit names outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as the defendant because he is the "agency head" over the U.S. Marshals Service. Holder announced his resignation in September but agreed to remain in his post until a successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The Marshals Service is the enforcement arm of the federal courts. Marshals arrest federal fugitives, transport federal prisoners and seize property acquired by criminals through illegal activities.
Among other things, the civil action asks for a trial by jury and compensatory damages "for lost wages which resulted" because of "unlawful actions." It also asks for reinstatement of all sick leave and annual leave that Peluyera has expended "as a result of defendant's actions."
It also asks for an order "permanently enjoining defendant from discriminating, retaliating or harassing" Peluyera.
The suit says Peluyera, who worked in London, was the first and only minority deputy assigned to the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Peluyera filed the suit in federal court after the U.S. Department of Justice determined in October that his 2013 complaint did not "contain enough evidence of animus or pretext to sustain a finding of discrimination or retaliation against complainant."
The decision signed by two adjudication officers said: "The record fails to demonstrate discrimination based on race, religion or retaliation in the form of a discrete act or a hostile work environment."
As examples of the disparate treatment and hostile work environment, Peluyera says:
■ He served a three-day suspension from Nov. 5 to 7, 2012, for failure to follow policies and for "unprofessional and disrespectful conduct."
That apparently stemmed from a July 27, 2012, incident in which Peluyera made a traffic stop after another car swerved toward his vehicle, forcing Peluyera to veer onto the shoulder. Peluyera followed and stopped the driver, who was traveling at high speed and weaving in and out of traffic, and called state police. He stayed on the scene until a trooper arrived to arrest the driver for driving under the influence. (The trooper later wrote Peluyera an email thanking him for stopping the driver, whose blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit.)
Nevertheless, Chief Deputy Stec determined that Peluyera had violated policy that prohibits deputy marshals from enforcing state law unless they witness an act "which could result in death or physical injury to a person."
Peluyera said he believed that the driver was placing the lives of others, including his own, in jeopardy. Carl sustained the violation.
■ He was placed on limited duty from Dec. 21, 2012 to April 1, 2013 as a result of an internal affairs investigation and was relieved of his marshals service badge, duty firearm and credentials.
The suit says the marshals service "did not find credible evidence to support relieving" Peluyera of his firearm, badge and credentials.
In its report, the U.S. Justice Department said using limited-duty status as a form of discipline "seems unusual," given that marshals service policy describes limited duty solely in medical terms. The policy says "employees are placed on limited duty whenever they are restricted from performing the full range of duties for more than 80 consecutive hours due to work-related or a non-work-related medical condition."
■ He was denied the use of a government vehicle, work equipment (Taser, shotgun, AR-15 rifle) and was subjected to unfair employment requirements.
■ Prior to his arrival in Lexington from Michigan on Jan. 10, 2012, supervisors "warned" other district employees about Peluyera. He began working in the London office about a week later. The Justice Department report said the tension between Peluyera and his supervisors may have roots in his setbacks at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga. Peluyera was out for 10 months for a knee injury, then back for nine days, and then out for an additional six months before graduating.
Shortly after his arrival in Kentucky, Peluyera had "expressed his frustration with his new environment," and told Carl and Stec "that Kentucky was 'in the stone age' and 'backward,'" the Justice Department report said.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Joseph M. Hood.