MARSHALL COUNTY, KY — A Marshall County Sheriff's Department deputy faced disciplinary action after a former Marshall County E-911 dispatcher filed a complaint against him.
The female dispatcher said the male deputy made her feel uncomfortable, and she made claims of sexual harassment.
The incident unfolded in 2020, but it became public because of recent tensions between E-911 and the sheriff's department, which are housed in the same building.
The complaint became public after E-911 Director Chris Freeman at a 2021 fiscal court meeting accused the sheriff's office of retaliating against Freeman and his staff after the complaint was filed. Freeman said retaliation included putting a black bag over the E-911 door.
Local filed an open records request with the sheriff's department for video of the incident and the sheriff's department's internal investigation into the matter.
In February of 2020, the dispatcher filed a sworn complaint against the deputy. It said Deputy Mark Vallenlunga "Made me uncomfortable of the sexual matter," and "Has a habit of getting in my space."
In a video provided by the sheriff's office, you can see the deputy rubbed the dispatcher on the head and then leaned on her desk.
An investigation into the dispatcher's claims happened in the following days. The dispatcher was interviewed by Marshall County Sheriff's Office investigators.
In a recorded interview, the dispatcher explained how the accused deputy's actions made her feel uncomfortable.
The sheriff's office also questioned the deputy.
"This blindsided me, 100%," said Vallenlunga in a recorded interview. "I would have never in my life. If you would have said 'Oh a dispatcher complained on me,' I would have had a hard time coming up with one. And she would have been on the last list."
The sheriff's deputy said he didn't mean it to be taken sexually. "I have never once in my life had any sexual feelings or content for that woman at all. I mean, she could be my daughter's age," he told investigators.
The sheriff's office's investigation classified the head rub as sexual harassment according to its policy and procedure manual. Investigators said in their report, "Deputy Vallenlunga did, in fact, violate chapter 13 sexual harassment policy under subsection listed as sexual conduct, including “Physical contact: such as patting, pinching or constant brushing against the body of another."
Investigators also added that, "Deputy Vallenlunga did in the most technical sense violate the policy of ‘patting’ by touching Ms. (name redacted by WPSD) head/hair."
The sheriff's office concluded that a verbal reprimand was appropriate action against the sheriff's deputy.
The sheriff's office told the deputy in his verbal reprimand quote "Your conduct making dispatcher (redacted by WPSD) uncomfortable revealed you did, in fact, pat/rub her head. This appears to be part of a joke involving actions in which you had just done with Benton Officer Hampton.
A Benton police officer was in the room when the incident happened. He was not accused or investigated for sexual harassment or inappropriate comments.
The investigating officer concluded the touch by Deputy Vallenlunga was not meant to be sexual. After the head rub, the dispatcher said Vallenlunga was too close to her chair and that he was close enough, "I would have hit him with it if I spun around."
The video shows the dispatcher spun around multiple times without hitting the deputy. The investigating officer noted this in their reports.
They also said her written complaint claiming she, "Tries to turn around in the console away from him and ignore him in hopes that he will go away" was contradictory due to her being seen in the 30-minute video engaging in conversation with the deputy and others for a majority of the time.
The dispatcher also claimed the deputy asked her a question about tasting her breast milk. Vallenlunga denied he ever made those statements, but said someone else in the room may have.
The investigator noted, "Ms. (name redacted by WPSD) struggled to five I/O [investigating officer] an example of inappropriate comments made by Deputy Vallenlunga, then offered the statement about the breast milk."
E-911 director Chris Freeman declined to comment for this story, although he made claims of retaliation due to the complaint in a public meeting.
During the accused deputy's interview, he said he felt the complaint was filed because of the public disputes between the sheriff's office and the E-911 center.
In August 2020, a majority of first responders in Marshall County have signed a petition expressing no confidence in E-911 Director Chris Freeman. McGuire was one of the 150 first responders that signed the petition.
McGuire has previously denied his office has taken any retaliatory acts against the E-911 center after the complaint. He gave us a brief statement about the investigation into his deputy.
“Our office completed a thorough investigation into the allegations. The deputy received appropriate discipline for the part of the investigation that was substantiated," McGuire said.