What a way to honor our Marines. An outstanding Sheriff Deputy was fired for having a tattoo on the inside of his forearm of praying hands and dog tags. He and his platoon lost one of their own while serving in Iraq and the entire platoon got the same tattoo in memory of the soldier. I would say the Sheriff needs to revise his tattoo policy. They hired him knowing he had the tattoo and fired him without due process after he served his probation period.
Parkersburg News article link
Wood County deputy fired over tattoo
POSTED: April 29, 2010
PARKERSBURG – A former Wood County deputy is fighting for his job after being fired in April over a tattoo on his forearm.
Christopher Piggott, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and former Parkersburg firefighter, said the circumstances of his termination were unfair and his right to due process was violated.
“I’m not ready to give up my career in law enforcement. Being a deputy is something I’ve pursued all my life,” said 29-year-old Piggott. “This whole situation has dumbfounded a lot of people.”
Piggott received a letter of termination April 15, a little over a year after being hired by the Wood County Sheriff’s Office and 11 days after the conclusion of his year-long probationary period, he said.
The termination was over Piggott’s refusal to remove a tattoo on his right forearm depicting two praying hands cupping a Marine Corps ID tag, an image memorializing his five years of service in the armed forces and his two tours of service in Iraq.
Above the hands is the phrase “Unless you were there,” etched in ink.
In 2008, the sheriff’s office implemented a new policy restricting visible tattoos. The policy states, “Tattoos are not to be visible while wearing the summer uniform.”
During his time as a deputy sheriff, Piggott said he covered the tattoo while on duty by wrapping a fitted black band around his forearm or wearing a long-sleeved uniform.
When asked to have the tattoo removed, Piggott refused. A few days later he was terminated, found to be in violation of the rules of conduct and personal appearance, he said.
“I was terminated rather quickly, and no due process was given,” said Piggott. “I feel it was dealt with in an unprofessional way.”
Piggott declined to confirm whether he signed any documentation when hired about agreeing to have his tattoo removed within a certain time frame.
Officials with the Wood County Deputy Sheriff’s Association said the heart of the issue is the violation of the former deputy’s right to a board review before his termination.
Lt. Shawn Graham, president of the Wood County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, said once a deputy’s probationary period has ended, he should be given the right to due process. Citing West Virginia Code 7-14-C, Graham said punitive issues should be presented to a review board before action is taken.
“We feel he was fired without proper procedure. The deputy sheriff’s association held a meeting on his behalf and voted to support Chris and try to get his job back,” said Graham. “I think we are doing what is in the best interest of the citizens. To lose one of our best officers over something like this is wrong.”
The Wood County Deputy Sheriff’s Association notified Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy about its decision to support Piggott. Graham said the association is lobbying for his reinstatement.
“I know many of our deputies have tattoos, and I think they are more socially acceptable now. I can’t think of anyone who would be offended by a tattoo,” said Graham. “The bottom line is, Chris is a fine young man and an asset to the sheriff’s office. His heart is in law enforcement.”
Piggott and his attorney George Cosenza have sent a letter to Sandy requesting reinstatement. A pre-disciplinary hearing was scheduled for May 19, but was postponed because several witnesses were unavailable, said Cosenza.
“I think there are legitimate issues that need to be resolved, and we are just in the beginning stages. Now that the sheriff has decided on punitive action, Piggott is entitled to a pre-disciplinary hearing,” said Cosenza. “There are issues regarding how he was notified of his termination and what exactly his status is now.”
Cosenza said Piggott was sent a letter of termination that advised him of his rights, and he is exercising his right to a pre-disciplinary hearing.
“If the review board believes punitive action should not be taken, the sheriff has a right to appeal to the civil service commission, and the same goes for Piggott. Depending on the outcome, the matter could end up in circuit court,” he said. “I do not believe a deputy sheriff can be fired without a pre-disciplinary hearing, and we have not yet had that hearing.”
Sandy said he could not comment on personnel issues under the advisement of Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton.
While Piggott awaits a decision, he has been working various construction jobs.
“I’m just trying to get reinstated. I’m a little nervous about the outcome,” Piggott said. “One of the big reasons I would feel comfortable going back to the department is because I know a lot of the deputies are backing me up.”