Former deputy sues Stanislaus County, sheriff for $1M

A former Stanislaus County deputy who says she was the victim of sexual harassment and gender discrimination has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the county and Sheriff Adam Christianson.

The former deputy, Valine Sarmas, also named sheriff's Sgt. Pedro Beltran in the lawsuit. Sarmas joined the department in September.

In court papers, Sarmas says Beltran started harassing her shortly afterward, kissing and groping her against her wishes. Sarmas says Beltran once showed her a video on his cell phone of him having sex with another Sheriff's Department employee.

Beltran could not be reached for comment Monday.

Sarmas says Christianson knew about the alleged abuse but refused to put a stop to it. Christianson said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit because it involves a personnel matter.

The lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Fresno.

Sarmas says a lieutenant knew about Beltran's conduct, so she expected higher-ups to investigate. Instead, according to court filings, Sarmas became the target of an internal affairs investigation about whether she had a boyfriend who was a gang member.

After six months with the department, Sarmas was fired. Sarmas contends that she was terminated in retaliation for telling command staff about Beltran's alleged misbehavior.

Sarmas' attorney, John Burris of Oakland, said Sarmas grew up in the Modesto area. She worked in the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department before joining the Stanislaus County department.

"I think it's pretty egregious," Burris said. "She was really looking forward to working in her own county, and she was treated pretty shabbily."

Two other lawsuits filed against the Sheriff's Department are pending in Stanislaus County Superior Court:

In July 2008, three former records department legal clerks and one current employee of the records department filed a racial harassment, discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against Stanislaus County, Christianson and other sheriff's office employees.

In December, a former sheriff's office legal clerk filed a lawsuit alleging she was sexually harassed by her supervisor and was fired when she filed complaints.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at or 578-2378.