Aubry Killlion | WDSU | Mar 29, 2024

NEW ORLEANS —A fired assistant sheriff filed a bombshell lawsuit against Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson.

Pearlina Thomas claims she got fired after raising concerns about how your tax dollars were being spent.

Hutson disputes the allegations in the lawsuit.

Richard Richthofen Jr. is representing Thomas.

“Through discovery, there’s not a claim that she made that can’t be proven,” Richtofen said. “My client began working for the Orleans Parish Sheriff in May of 2022. Ms. Thomas immediately found herself to be in a culture that repeatedly averted its eyes to ethical concerns. She raised these concerns together with some of her co-workers in an effort to better the work environment and protect the office of the Sheriff, and for that, she was terminated.”

According to the lawsuit, Thomas alleges Hutson said that she had “done great work.”

Thomas also alleges that Hutson fired her in retaliation for warning Hutson about nepotism concerns and warnings about OPSO expenses.

“Her being fired has caused emotional distress, financial distress, embarrassment; somebody needs to be held accountable,” Richtofen said.

WDSU uncovered $19,000 was spent to put OPSO employees up in hotels for Mardi Gras last year, records show many of the rooms weren’t used.

“This lawsuit basically pulled back the curtain on a number of issues,” said Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

When it comes to those hotel rooms, a dog training company stepped in to foot the bill but backed out.

“It appears that if they were going to donate $19,000 it’s going to be contingent on the sheriff’s office purchasing two dogs and having their dogs trained with that firm,” Goyeneche said.

In the suit, Thomas makes major accusations about Hutson and other employees.

“The fact that the sheriff was allegedly involved, living with one of her senior staff members,” Goyeneche said. “A senior member of the administration’s son was hired as a contract employee. When the senior staff found out about it, they requested an ethics opinion, and the ethics administration said there would be a prohibited contract. Ultimately, the contract was entered into and later dissolved.”

Sheriff Hutson issued the following statement:

“As Sheriff of Orleans Parish, I am charged with bringing in individuals that embody the values and mission of this agency. Also, I am charged with making necessary decisions to transition people out of the agency when appropriate. Regarding the ongoing litigation, I do not comment on pending legal matters. I want to emphasize that no terminations have occurred in my administration unless they were deemed necessary for the proper execution of the duties of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and in its best interest. No terminations occurred in violation of any law or legal requirement.

“I remain committed to hiring and firing individuals based on the best interest of the OPSO and its stellar workforce. I will continue to be a steadfast steward of the OPSO workforce, ensuring that all employees adhere to the highest standards of ethics and accountability. Allegations of misconduct, including any misuse of public funds, are taken very seriously. We dispute the allegations in the lawsuit, and I look forward to the opportunity to refute these salacious and fraudulent allegations in court.”