Civil rights lawsuit against Sharp County judge, sheriff alleges discrimination

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Lawsuit: Judge “wanted lap dances” from bailiff

SHARP COUNTY, Ark. – After 15 years in Sharp County as part of law enforcement, Mary Wanley expected to work until she was able to retire.

Instead, on September 9, 2019, Wanley was fired by District Judge Mark Johnson. A discrimination lawsuit filed on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020 in U.S. District Court in Jonesboro alleges Wanley was fired so Johnson could hire a “younger and prettier” security officer to give him lap dances.

In Wanley’s place, a replacement was hired the day after she was terminated. The female replacement, Ariel Housmann, is approximately half the age of Wanley.

“The day after he fired me, she showed up in the office in the uniform,” Wanley said. “And he took her directly over to the courtroom where I was lead court security officer. He told me the day before he was taking court security out of the probation department and going back to the sheriff’s department. The next day, she shows up in district court to take over probation and go right back over to district court.”

Updated 6 PM – Judge Johnson’s campaign sent us this response to our request for comment.

“Mary Wanley’s frivolous lawsuit is full of outright lies. Ms. Wanley was terminated for reasons of fraud and gross maleficence. Ms. Wanley “double-dipped” by claiming to work at different departments at the exact same time and would often show up late for work and/or leave early. For these, and other documented reasons, she was terminated. The documented facts of her poor job performance will be presented in court if this ridiculous lawsuit ever makes it to trial. These last minute veiled attempts to discredit a respected and long-serving Judge are often the tactics of desperate people.” – Michael Cook, Judge Mark R. Johnson’s campaign spokesperson


All of the Hard Work

As a member of the LGBT community, Wanley has battled both conscious and subconscious discrimination for much of her life. When she set her eyes on going into law enforcement, she knew she would have to work harder than her peers to succeed – so she did.

“I loved my job,” Wanley said. “When I first started, nobody would even talk to me, back in 2007.”

In 2012, after lobbying for some time to be sent to the police academy to be certified as a law enforcement officer, Wanley was finally sent to train at the Black River Technical College’s Law Enforcement Training Academy in Pocahontas. She graduated that year and became a full-time Sharp County deputy. Even though she had taken the initiative to grow her career, she said she was still met with resistance. Specifically, she said two key employees at the sheriff’s department never liked her because she was lesbian.

“There’s two key people at the sheriff’s department who never have liked me because of who I am,” Wanley said. “I have to be true to myself. I don’t flaunt anything. I never have. I’m very well-respected in this community by a lot of people.”


Being Fired

Wanley was working as a bailiff and misdemeanor probation officer for the county in September, 2019. Early in the month, she was called into Judge Johnson’s office. He told her she was being terminated.

“He had a stack of papers on his desk and I asked him, ‘What have i done?'” Wanley recalled. “He said, ‘Well, I’m just tired of messing with you. You do real well for four or five months and then you screw something up.’ I said ‘What have I done? I will fix it!'”

From the stack of papers, Johnson brought up an incident in 2015. Wanley said she had retrieved a rifle from the sheriff’s department which was issued to her. She was called to pick it up and did, taking it back to her office in the court and sitting it in a corner. Wanley didn’t have a case for the rifle but it wasn’t loaded. However, one of the county employees saw it and was startled enough to notify authorities. Wanley said she immediately went to Walmart and bought a case with her own money. She was written up over the incident anyway. Five years later, it was being presented to her as the prime reason for her termination.

“I had a hard time out there but I worked through it because I loved it,” Wanley said.

In addition to the 2015 incident, Wanley said the judge complained about her working on her days off at other departments. During one of the instances that drew Johnson’s ire, Wanley said she had worked at Ash Flat PD on a Friday. Her time-sheet was already completed for the sheriff’s department that week and had her working Friday there, too. So, when she worked at the sheriff’s department Monday, she used her vacation day on the schedule to make up. No overtime was incurred. It seemed like a valid explanation but Wanley said the judge didn’t want to hear it.

“He wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say,” Wanley said. “I said, ‘Please don’t do this. I’ve got my retirement. He said ‘Stop talking. You’re done. You’ve got till 2 o’clock tomorrow to turn your resignation in because you’re fired.’ Of course, I didn’t turn my resignation in. I tried to go to the quorum court but they said they said I didn’t submit them a letter in time.”

With Wanley employed by the sheriff’s department, Johnson didn’t have a right to fire her, she said. The sheriff could have stepped in. Initially, Wanley thought that’s what Sheriff Mark Counts was doing. She said Counts told her he would go to the next quorum court meeting and get approval so that she could finish the year at the sheriff’s department and then be hired back full-time for court security and transport the next year. Wanley attended the quorum court meeting and Counts never brought it up.

“They’ve since hired someone else at 400 more than I was making,” Wanley said.

Wanley’s replacement was in full uniform by the day after her termination. Now in her sixties, Wanley felt betrayed showing up and seeing someone 29-years-old as her replacement. But within mere months, Wanley said the replacement was sent to the police academy to train. At least in her eyes, what she had fought and worked hard for was being given out to someone else.

“It’s like someone coming in, shooting you, and walking off,” Wanley said. “Stepping over you and saying here’s your job.”

The lawsuit itself alleges Johnson doesn’t want his security officers to be old, but rather, young and pretty. Item 7 states Johnson fabricated reasons for her termination, “because he wanted a younger, prettier employee to perform lap dances for him in the office.” Item 8 continues with this theory.

“Because of Plaintiff’s age, Johnson, upon information and belief, would not have wanted Plaintiff to perform lap dances for him. Nonetheless, performing lap dances was not an essential job function.” – Legal filing by Luther Sutter, Sutter & Gillham, P.L.L.C. in Benton

The lawsuit doesn’t explain a source for this allegation and Wanley wasn’t aware of what her attorney had, in terms of evidence regarding this assertion. NEA Report contacted Attorney Sutter for clarity.

The lawsuit continues on to say lap dances are “precisely what the district judge wanted, so he fabricated reasons to influence the Defendant to terminate Plaintiff.” Even though the sheriff could have kept Wanley, the lawsuit said he rubber-stamped the judge’s decision.

Both Sheriff Counts and Judge Johnson are defendants in the case.


Feeling Betrayed

Wanley said she had never had issues with Johnson in the past. She said she knew him personally since 1983 and worked for him since 2012

“I put down my life for him for all these years and I still would,” Wanley said. “And to have him turn around and do this to me?”

Since her unexpected firing, Wanley was able to find employment as a part-time EMT. She said she’s lucky to still be able to pay the bills. However, she lost her retirement, almost a month of vacation time, her insurance, and more during these events. It left her with no choice but to pursue legal action.

“I don’t like doing it,” Wanley said. “But I have done everything in that courtroom, put in 31 cameras, got grants. I’ve done a lot of work. I planned on working until I’m 72 and I’m 64. But I came home and told my spouse I lost my job today. No reason. Just out of the blue.”

Wanley still has feelings for her old job but the feeling of betrayal has made it nearly impossible for her to return to it, she said. Judge Johnson would need to be out of office for her to consider it – but even then, she feels like the sheriff broke her trust. She’s asking for a jury trial, reinstatement, compensatory and liquidated damages, and an injunction preventing Johnson from firing her again.

I still can’t go anywhere without people saying, ‘Mary what happened to you?'” Wanley said. “It tore my whole life up.”


NEA Report reached out to Judge Mark Johnson, Sheriff Mark Counts, and the replacement court officer, Ariel Housmann. At 5:28 PM, a response from Johnson’s campaign was received and added to the story above. Counts and Housmann have yet to respond to our request for comment. If they do, we will add it to this story.

On Thursday, Johnson released the following video.

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3 Comments

  1. This is sad. If true, Judge Johnson is not the jovial man with a great sense of humor, but a letch. Hopefully this isn’t true…

  2. I’m gonna say after knowing Mark for years and being a family friend he didn’t do this, not only is it above his character but he is so much smarter than what a person would have to be to fire someone like this. I get that Wanley is angry and bitter and wants to lash out but this is going to have repercussions that she will have to deal with for a long time.

  3. Sharp Co. Arkansas. This place makes me laugh. Think of Sharp Co. as, Arkansas’s Jerry Springer show. Too Funny!

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