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In a circuit court show-cause hearing Wednesday, a retired Court of Special Appeals judge for Prince George’s County denied a Calvert County Sheriff’s Office sergeant’s request for injunctive relief — originally filed March 28 against Sheriff Mike Evans (R) — and, in doing so, struck down claims of coercion and retaliation on the part of the sheriff.

1st Sgt. Matthew McDonough had requested that he be promoted retroactively to lieutenant as of July 2013 and be reinstated to his previous position as assistant commander of the office’s Drug Enforcement Unit, from which he was transferred to commander of the Twin Beach Patrol in December.

But Judge James P. Salmon ruled the sheriff’s not selecting McDonough for a promotion in June 2013 and subsequent decision to transfer him — a position swap that did not affect his rank, supervisory authority, grade or pay — were not “adverse actions” borne from McDonough’s political support of Evans’ opponent in the 2014 general election, Craig Kontra (D), as the sergeant had alleged in his injunction.

After the proceedings, Evans said he felt vindicated by the decision.

“The court ruled as it should have,” he said.

In his June 5 response to McDonough’s injunction, which included affidavits from Capt. Steve Jones, Capt. Bobby Jones and Assistant Sheriff Maj. Patrick “Dave” McDowell, Evans maintained that McDonough’s reassignment was made solely in response to the needs of the community and the agency.

During his testimony, however, McDonough expressed dissatisfaction with his position.

“I characterize it as a step down,” he said. “To me, it feels almost like a demotion.”

McDonough noted that because his is a contract position with the Beaches, if the mayor were to decide not to renew, he could lose his rank of 1st sergeant, and that Beach patrol is typically reserved for new 1st sergeants.

The third witness for the plaintiff — the only one in addition to Evans and McDonough themselves — testified there is another reason the sheriff may have elected to authorize the transfer. Dfc. Thomas Rickard of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office said that in September 2013, Evans approached him at a wedding and told him he couldn’t have his opponent’s “right-hand man” in charge of the drug unit, and that he did not know how long that would last.

Rickard said he extrapolated that the sheriff meant he wished to remove McDonough from his position, as one of the main platforms on which Kontra is running is the drug problem in the county.

“My interpretation was that he didn’t want McDonough in the drug unit … with information,” Rickard said.

Regardless of the reason for McDonough’s transfer, Evans’ counsel, Asst. Attorney General Jason Levine, called the sergeant’s request to be reinstated to the DEU “frankly outrageous,” saying it would be “dangerous” for a sergeant to start imposing his will on the sheriff.

“At the sheriff’s office, not everybody gets to do what they want all the time,” Levine said. “When you work for law enforcement, you sign up for everything.”

Addressing the issue of the promotion (or, in McDonough’s case, lack thereof), Levine reiterated what Evans had emphasized in his June 5 response to the injunction: that the promotion panel did not take into account any of the potential candidates’ political affiliations, that there were fewer positions (two) open than there were hopefuls and that McDonough was not favored and, therefore, his promotion was not discussed.

“Not everybody gets promoted; that’s just the way it works,” Levine said. “At the end of the day, there were five candidates and he wasn’t selected.”

Levine also identified an important discrepancy in McDonough’s allegations: In his original injunction, he stated that the reason he was not upgraded to the rank of lieutenant during the promotional process in June 2013 was directly linked to his support of Kontra. But during the hearing, he conceded he did not partake in a campaign event for Kontra until July 11, 2013, after the promotion process had taken place.

Afterward, McDonough said he perceived a change in the atmosphere at the office.

“Life wasn’t miserable … but there was tension,” he said.

Also, during Levine’s cross-examination, McDonough conceded that while he believed his political loyalty to be the reason he was denied a promotion in 2013, he was also turned down for promotions in 2008 and 2012, despite backing Evans in the 2010 election.

In addition, McDonough recognized his supervisors have been flexible and given him significant leeway in deciding his weekly schedule.

Although Steven Sunday, McDonough’s attorney, argued that the sheriff could not prove that transferring McDonough was for the betterment of the county, the judge ruled the sheriff’s actions and decisions were within his rights, noting that the decision to reassign McDonough was made at the recommendation of Capt. Steve Jones and McDowell.

But McDonough said the outcome will not change his conduct at the office or his relationship with the sheriff and that he will not take any further action on the matter.

“Basically, I have to stand up for myself and say my piece. The judge made his ruling, and I can live with that,” he said. “I’ll do my job as I’m expected to do.”

afrazier@somdnews.com