A Spokane County sheriff’s sergeant was fired Thursday after an internal investigation found he spoke of killing black people and sexually harassed a female deputy on his helicopter crew.

Sgt. Jeff Thurman, an 18-year veteran of the sheriff’s office who worked in Spokane Valley, was accused of starting a phone conversation with another deputy by asking: “You ready to kill some (racial slur) tonight or what?”

Thurman was off duty in December 2016 when he placed the call to the
other deputy, who answered the call using a Bluetooth speaker while
parked beside a third deputy in a separate patrol car, the sheriff’s
office said. Both deputies who heard Thurman’s remark were on duty at
the time.

Thurman was scheduled to appear Thursday afternoon for a meeting
known as a Loudermill hearing, a due-process requirement for public
employees. He did not show up, however, and instead provided a written
statement to the sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Thurman’s employment was formally
terminated after the scheduled meeting time passed. Thurman has 10 days
to appeal the decision.

“This type of behavior will never be tolerated,” Knezovich said.
“It’s reprehensible, and any deputy who dishonors his community and his
badge this way, they will not work for the Spokane County Sheriff’s
Office.”

Attempts to reach Thurman for comment Thursday were unsuccessful, and
the sheriff’s office did not immediately provide a copy of his written
statement.

He was placed on paid administrative leave May 8, one week after the complaint about the racist remark was formalized.

Knezovich said the deputy who received the phone call from Thurman
was troubled by the remark. During the internal investigation, the
deputy said he had heard Thurman use the N-word before, usually when he
was angry.

The deputy “didn’t condone it at all,” Knezovich said.

The other deputy who heard the remark – who is African American,
according to Knezovich – raised concerns about it with three supervisors
but always sought confidentiality and not a formal investigation.

“The deputy that finally brought this forward went to three different
supervisors and said, ‘I want to bounce this off you, but I don’t want
you to do anything about it. I don’t want a formal complaint,’ ”
Knezovich said.

“Quite frankly, those supervisors should have brought it forward,”
Knezovich said. “With something like this, you have to bring it forward.
These things have to be sent up the chain, and they have to be dealt
with.”

The complaint wasn’t formalized until the president of the deputies
union, Kevin Richey, heard about it and contacted another sergeant,
Aaron Myhre, who alerted Knezovich.

“I just did what I thought was right,” said Richey, who is also the mayor of Airway Heights.

Knezovich said the three sergeants remain under investigation for
failing to initiate an investigation. The supervisors were “contrite”
for not acting sooner, Knezovich said.

Thurman worked as a K-9 handler and as a tactical flight officer on the sheriff’s office helicopter crew.

While looking into the racist remark, internal investigators
interviewed a female deputy who was recently selected for the flight
crew, Knezovich said. During that interview, she said that Thurman had
sexually harassed her.

According to Knezovich, the crew was making plans for an out-of-town
training, and Thurman told the woman: “Hey, you’re going to be rooming
with me.” He also “made the statement that she would be coming back
pregnant,” according to Knezovich.

“I don’t know in what world anybody thinks that’s remotely acceptable,” the sheriff said.

Another female deputy backed up the other deputy’s account of sexual
harassment and said she, too, had heard Thurman use the N-word
previously, according to Knezovich.

Knezovich said that throughout the investigation, Thurman did not
accept responsibility for his actions and instead “tried to throw
everybody under the bus.”

“He mitigated and blamed people, blamed victims,” Knezovich said. “He was the victim, and everybody else was out to get him.”

Previously, Thurman “had a fairly clean record except for a letter of reprimand here or there,” Knezovich said.

Thurman joined the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy in
2001 after transferring from the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office. He
often made headlines for arrests involving his prolific police dog,
Laslo.

Knezovich expressed confidence that Thurman’s behavior was not a
symptom of broader cultural problems within the department, noting other
deputies came forward with additional allegations instead of rallying
to support Thurman.

“They went, ‘OK, well he also did this, this and this,’ and they
don’t want that within their ranks,” Knezovich said. “So, no, I’m not
afraid of that type of culture.”

One other deputy was fired several years ago for using the N-word, Knezovich said.

Kurtis Robinson, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP,
credited Knezovich for taking “swift action” after learning of the
allegations against Thurman.

“Credit where credit’s due,” Robinson said. “I applaud the sheriff
and his organization for taking the actions that they have. I think
they’re also being called to take more.”

Robinson said Thurman’s long tenure with the sheriff’s office
indicates there is an “undercurrent” of prejudice or bigotry that must
be addressed.

“And when you look at the disparities represented in our local
criminal justice system, it confirms that,” Robinson said. “I’m not
surprised that the sheriff’s office has not been immune to that.”

“The reality is that these issues have been here for a long time,” he
said. “They are still here today. And what are we going to do about it
now?”



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