CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A former deputy who was fired earlier this year is suing top members of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) for an alleged pattern of inappropriate conduct by the department’s leadership.

Joyce Smith was terminated April 1, 2022 because she defaulted on her student loans — which was against contract — according to CCSO.

A termination letter sent by Sheriff Kristin Graziano read in part “your willful default on student loans has rendered it unlawful for my office to continue to employ you… South Carolina law prohibits my office (among others) from employing individuals who are willfully in default on certain student loans.” It also cited “truthfulness infractions,” which required Smith be fired.

In a new federal lawsuit, Smith alleges that members of the sheriff’s office, including some in leadership, engaged in casual and frequent sexual harassment and discrimination as well as “a campaign of retaliation.” Sheriff Graziano, Deputy Sheriff Ameed Sad, and Charleston County are named as defendants.

The lawsuit references comments made by employees accusing other employees of complaining “like a damn girl.” It also recounts several more vulgar comments allegedly made by CCSO staff.

Smith claimed that when she brought these concerns to Graziano, she was ignored. She said that Sad — one of the men making the comments — began spreading false statements about her as a means of retribution.

In addition to the sexually-charged comments, Smith said that she experienced racist behavior while working at CCSO.

She recalled an antebellum-themed racially insensitive caricature doll gifted by the Sheriff to another employee. Smith believed that Graziano intentionally presented the employee with the gift in front of her “as a means of intimidating [Smith] and creating a hostile work environment… designed to communicate to [Smith] that she should stop making complaints of discrimination and hostile work environment.”

When Smith tried to file a complaint with HR, she was directed to another department, which was overseen by Sad, who Smith claimed “was a critical source of the discrimination and hostility.” She also said that she tried to schedule a meeting with Graziano, “but Graziano refused to comply.”

The lawsuit formally lists 13 causes of action and requests a jury trial.

Graziano provided the following statement in response to the allegations:

“The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office is bound by law to follow strict employment guidelines, as outlined by the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy policy and in state law. As was described in her termination letter in April, previously made public, former Chief Deputy Joyce Smith swore through an affidavit at the time of her hire that she would correct her federal student loan status. During the annual review process, it was found that she had not. Joyce was a trusted adviser to me during her tenure at the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. I adamantly deny her allegations; they are false, and I don’t take them lightly. Our legal counsel is awaiting the filing of any complaint. I am proud of our work that we’ve done in the past year and a half.”

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano