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‘It is not sexual harassment unless someone’s offended,’ claims Baxter County Sheriff during KTLO question on sexual harassment suit

Hot off the heels of an amended complaint detailing the alleged rape of one of his former jailers, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery made a claim about the alleged sexual harassment that Tabitha L. King faced while working at the Sheriff’s Office.

The remark, which was said during a political forum hosted by KTLO Monday morning, is one of the first public statements that Montgomery has made since the federal lawsuit against the county, himself, and his former sergeant became public knowledge.

“The first thing I want to make clear, it is not sexual harassment unless someone’s offended,” said Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery after taking a question about the lawsuit. “Just the fact that there’s inappropriate behavior does not make it sexual harassment. That’s very key.”

Who knew what and when

Monday’s political forum gave the public some insight into how Montgomery, who has been tight-lipped about the case since it became known to the public, views the allegations laid out against himself, the county, and former Sergeant Steven Good.

During his remarks on the lawsuit, Montgomery claimed, “the first time I learned about this sexual harassment was after the employee was fired.”

This statement is in direct contrast to King’s complaint, which alleges that King had notified Captain Brad Lewis of the alleged sexual harassment and retaliatory evaluations she had received on April 15, 2021, a full eight days before she was terminated.

King further alleges that Montgomery confessed to knowing about the harassment allegations to her during a face-to-face meeting on the day she was fired on April 23, 2021. Montgomery allegedly told King during the meeting, “No, we will not discuss this.”

In his official federal court response to King’s complaint, Montgomery stated that his comment, which he admitted to saying, was in reference to King talking about filing a lawsuit. Montgomery also confessed to knowing that King “discussed with Captain Lewis that she was unhappy with her evaluation as she did not have a section where she could add a comment or respond to the evaluation.”

Internal investigation

During his response to being questioned on the lawsuit against him, Montgomery revealed details of the internal investigation after King was fired. Montgomery stated that the investigation interviewed as many as 90 people and that a sexual harassment class was given to all of the employees serving at the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office.

Montgomery also revealed that Sergeant Goode was fired after the investigation for inappropriate behavior, despite attempting to downplay the harassment by alleging that King wasn’t offended by Goode’s behavior.

King’s lawsuit alleges that not only was King subjected to sexual harassment and unwanted sexual photos on the job but that “Sergeant Goode pushed Ms. King to the ground onto her knees and forced his penis into her mouth.” She also revealed a new allegation last Thursday, claiming that Goode denied her immediate leave to seek emergency medical treatment while having a miscarriage in 2020.

In her response to Montgomery’s request to dismiss the case, King stated, “Plain and simple, sexual assault is criminal. See Ark. Code Ann. § 5-14-125(a)(1). It is so severe that no person should expect to endure it. It is intentional. It cannot be tolerated, let alone swept under the rug as happened here. The Complaint has given the Defendants the notice required by Twombly (and then-some). Plainly stated, Goode is liable for his actions, the Sheriff is liable for not addressing the behavior, and the County is vicariously liable for the intentional tortious actions of its employees.”

EEOC remarks

After claiming that his office could not find any basis for King’s sexual harassment claim, Montgomery stated that King’s EEOC complaint was dismissed by investigators because “they could not find any basis of that.”

A read of the EEOC letter sent to King by an investigator reveals a more nuanced take on the situation.

While the EEOC investigation did come to an end, the investigator notes in his letter to King that “based upon the evidence available, EEOC is unable to conclude that there was a violation under the laws enforced by EEOC.”

The investigator then states, “this does not mean the claims have no merit. This determination does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes. The EEOC makes no finding as to the merits of any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this charge.”

King was then notified that her next step was to file a lawsuit against her previous employer. Montgomery concluded his remarks by saying, “I am not concerned about the lawsuit, really at all.”

Reaction to statements

Reaction to Montgomery’s statements during KTLO’s political forum varied between Sheriff candidates Henry Campfield and John Pate.

When asked if they would like to comment on Montgomery’s remarks and the lawsuit, the radiowaves were met with a moment of dead air before Campfield declined to comment. Pate, who was the first person in Baxter County to publish the lawsuit against Montgomery, Goode, and the county, even before the media was aware of the lawsuit, took a brief moment to reflect on the suit and the evidence that he has claimed to see.

“I’ll have to cordially disagree with Mr. Montgomery,” said John Pate, candidate for Baxter County Sheriff. “Because I’ve heard the recordings and stuff that was made. It wasn’t welcomed. It went on for quite a while, and I think it’s a bitter pill the county’s going to have to swallow at the end of it.”

King’s lawyers also returned a statement to the Mountain Home Observer when asked for comment stating, “We take her allegations very seriously.”

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