A Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy was fired Thursday, June 13, following an internal investigation that found he discussed killing black people, used racial slurs and sexually harassed a female colleague.
The 18-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, Sgt. Jeff Thurman, allegedly contacted an on-duty deputy while off-duty in December 2016 and said, “You ready to kill some (racial slur) tonight?”
Thurman worked in Spokane Valley. His comments were said over Bluetooth speaker and heard by multiple deputies, according to the sheriff’s office.
No formal complaint was submitted until last month when word reached President of the deputies union Kevin Richey, who is also the mayor of Airway Heights. Richey informed his sergeant, who reported the incident to Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
“It was the right thing to do,” Richey said.
Richey said it is sheriff’s office policy to report incidents to a supervisor.
One of the deputies who initially overheard the remark reported it to three supervisors but requested confidentiality and said he did not want to pursue a formal investigation. That deputy’s superiors respected his request, Richey said.
Those supervisors should have reported the issue, Knezovich said in a press conference.
“The problem is for a supervisor you don’t have that luxury,” he said. “If someone comes to you with this type of problem it goes straight up the chain immediately.”
Knezovich said he will be meeting with the supervisors in question and they are aware they should have reported the incident.
“They failed because they wanted to help a friend, but they didn’t have that right,” he said.
Thurman was placed on administrative leave in early May one week after the complaint was formalized while the Sheriff’s Office of Professional Standards launched an internal investigation.
During that investigation, a female deputy was interviewed and said Thurman had sexually harassed her, telling her they were rooming together for an out-of-town training event and inferring that she would come back pregnant, investigators said.
“You cannot do those things and wear a badge,” Knezovich said in a press conference.
At the conclusion of the internal investigation, Thurman was found to have committed several violations of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Policy and Washington State Civil Service employment law, according to the press release. Violated policies included those governing standards of conduct and discriminatory harassment.
Richey refrained from discussing incident specifics due to the potential for an official grievance, the handling of which would fall under his duties as president of the union. However, he said he did not feel the incident is indicative of the overall culture at the sheriff’s office.
“It’s not a reflection of the sheriff’s office as a whole, and I think how it was handled — swiftly and decisively — shows that,” Richey said.
Knezovich also said he did not feel the incident is symptomatic of a larger issue within the department and called it “a rarity.”
“This isn’t who we are,” Knezovich said. “In 29 years of doing this job, I’ve never seen this, and I hope to never see it again.”
Thurman provided a written response to the allegations and declined to meet with Knezovich in person. After the scheduled meeting time passed, Knezovich terminated Thurman’s employment with the sheriff’s office for the conduct noted in the internal investigation.
While Thurman’s written response has not been made available to the general public, Knezovich said the sergeant “never took responsibility for this, not once. In fact, he blamed everybody for his failure.”
Thurman’s employment has been formally terminated and he has 10 days from his termination date to appeal the decision.
Sheriff’s office spokesman Mark Gregory said he did not know if any of Thurman’s cases will be reviewed and that decision lies with the prosecutor’s office.