Jim Erwin

Former Department of Corrections commissioner Jim Erwin during a 2015 interview with WDRB. 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Former Kentucky Department of Corrections Commissioner Jim Erwin says he was fired for refusing to fire two employees he believes weren't afforded due process.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Oldham Circuit Court, Erwin claimed he was fired for expressing disagreement and concern with how internal investigations are handled at the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. 

Erwin, along with Operations Director Chris Kleymeyer, were fired on February 8th. No reason was given for their dismissal. Deputy Justice Secretary Jon Grate was named acting commissioner. 

The lawsuit claims that during a January 28th meeting with Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley, Erwin expressed concerns that the cabinet's Internal Investigations Bureau was mismanaged and that investigations done by the bureau were not thorough, contained inaccuracies and "failed to gather considerable, readily available information through witnesses and documentation." 

Specifically, Erwin, who was commissioner for less than a year, claims he was ordered to fire two black employees based on an internal investigation. However, Erwin says he had concerns about how the investigation was handled and refused. He was then fired.

The lawsuit does not specify what the internal investigation was about. 

"He was trying to do right by everybody and ended up getting fired for it," said Erwin's attorney Tom Coffey. 

Justice and Public Safety Cabinet spokesman Mike Wynn released a statement saying:

These false claims are an obvious attempt to distract from the wrongdoing that occurred under Mr. Erwin’s command. The Justice Cabinet will not be intimidated from rooting out deception and misconduct, and we will have much more to share regarding this situation very soon. Right now, we can confirm that both correctional employees named in the suit remain on administrative leave, and we are following all appropriate protocols regarding their employment.

Wynn did not specify what the wrongdoing under Erwin was.

In Erwin's termination letter, Tilley wrote that he was fired without cause and had the ability to seek another job inside state government.

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.  

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Reporter

Travis Ragsdale joined WDRB in Jan. 2015. He focuses primarily on investigative reporting involving police, local government and infrastructure. He can be reached at 502-585-0817