A former Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy believes he was fired for his public support of a candidate in this year’s election for sheriff.
Rodney Pirkle said he was terminated about 15 hours after he announced his choice for sheriff on his personal Facebook page.
“I posted, ‘I may not have a job tomorrow, but I’m going to throw my support behind Duane Piper,’” Pirkle said.
Piper and Lauren McDonald are challenging incumbent Ted Paxton in this month’s Republican primary.
Pirkle was not given a reason for his firing. As an employee of the department for less than a year he was still on probationary status, and the county is not required to provide a reason for terminating those on probation.
His July 11 termination letter was signed by Paxton and states “effective immediately, you are not retained as a regular status employee.”
Despite more than four prior years with the department as a deputy, Pirkle was on standard first-year employee probation after having left for a year and then being rehired on Aug. 9, 2011.
He resigned to spend a year in Afghanistan working as a bomb dog handler and trainer.
According to county policy, “a probationary employee … may be subject to personnel action and/or disciplined up to and including termination for any non-discriminatory reason, without the requirement that the county demonstrate just cause for the personnel action.”
Paxton said Friday that Pirkle was not retained with the office “due to performance issues.”
The office does have a social media policy, which speaks to using “good judgment, decency and common sense” when on the Internet and also not sharing agency information or materials without approval.
“Regardless of that,” Paxton said, “there’s some other issues. Certainly everything’s not in someone’s personnel file.”
Pirkle’s file included only one instance of being disciplined.
In November, he received a verbal reprimand for conduct unbecoming an officer while off-duty. Pirkle said in that instance his 12-year-old daughter said a man had asked for a photo of her, and he got into a heated verbal confrontation with the man.
His file also includes several accolades, including four awards for deputy of the month, most recently in January, and positive quarterly reviews. He was named the department’s “Deputy of the Year” for 2007.
Pirkle said while the agency doesn’t have to give him a reason to fire him while under probationary status, “it also says they can’t release me for discriminatory actions, like my race, my religion or my political affiliation, and they did. It’s totally politically motivated.”
He plans to file an informal appeal to the county’s civil service board to see if they will review his case, and he’s also looking for an attorney.
While Pirkle said he knows of other deputies who have publicly supported one of the sheriff’s opponents, he thinks he was targeted because of his probationary status.
“These other guys are covered under the civil service board,” he said, “so they could appeal and come right back.”