Sgt Jeffrey Thurman files suit against Spokane County and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich on July 1st 2019. Spokane News acquired the lawsuit and have posted the details below. The outline below was taken directly from the filed lawsuit via copy and paste. We will follow up with this and any further information released.
From the filed lawsuit:
Discrimination in violation of RCW 49.60.030, for the disparate treatment of Sergeant Jeffrey Thurman, including the disparity in discipline and in publication arising from a complainant whose claims were found to be unsupported, and in three cases found to be patently false, but who suffered no disciplinary notice, investigation, reprimand, warning, discipline, or adverse publication.
Defamation, including libel and slander per se, and false light, including accusations by the Sheriff in a June 13, 2019 press conference memorialized on the Sheriff’s YouTube website, where the Sheriff accused Sgt. Jeffrey Thurman, a decorated sergeant of some twenty four years of service to this community, of conduct unbecoming an officer and unfitness to serve, by telling the public that Sgt. Thurman made “use of racial slurs,” engaged in “sexual harassment,” and stated to another deputy “let’s go out and kill someone,” all allegedly supported by an internal investigative report dated June 7, 2019. The manner in which The Sheriff’s fact statements were conveyed falsely depicted and depict the investigative report as evidencing Sgt. Jeffrey Thurman to be a racially profiling, racist, lawless deputy who hunted suspects based on race, which is false. The sting of this manner of publication of this report and its contents is false.0F 1 The Sheriff’s statements that “more people started coming forward,” that deputies “came forward” and that others “reached out” to support this false depiction were false. Statements that Jeffrey Thurman was “this type of person” are false. Statements that Jeffrey Thurman “never took responsibility,” “blamed everybody for his failure,” had “three version(s) of the events” and told others he “had dirt on” them were false. The statements that Jeffrey Thurman told or implied to a female deputy that he intended impregnate her are patently false. The statement that Jeffrey Thurman “didn’t have the decency to show up” at a hearing was grossly misportrayed. The statements that “he betrayed us all” is grossly misreported. The Sheriff knew or reasonably should have known of the falsity of the manner in which he framed and reported this investigation content and its materials, because he stated in the conference that he had read the report and all materials compiled in the investigation before making his statements.
In further specificity, the report shows that the investigation arose out of a primary discrimination claim against Jeffrey Thurman, which related to a promotion that the claimant did not receive. That claim was shown to be demonstrably false. The Sheriff knew that the same claimant made additional discrimination claims that were also shown to be false, as was an additional report of an alleged “acknowledgement” conversation, which could not have physically occurred in the manner depicted. As to the alleged statement about hunting and killing black suspects, Sheriff Knezovich knew or reasonably should have known that no competent evidence supported Jeffrey Thurman’s having ever made such a statement. The claimant could not name a date on which this statement was to have allegedly occurred and claimed it to be only months earlier; but when the possibility of this event was triangulated by an investigation to the only date on which the circumstances reported could have existed, those circumstances existed two years earlier. The Deputy alleged to have been in the vehicle at the time heard no such statement, and affirmatively stated that he would have remembered it had anything like that been said. There is no evidence of a call from Jeffrey Thurman to that car or that deputy’s phone in the call records or elsewhere, other than the claimant’s statement that a call occurred. There is no history of any corroborating racially motivated law enforcement behavior on the part of Jeffrey Thurman in over 24 years of distinguished service to this community, and Jeffrey Thurman’s law enforcement reputation among his peers was exceptional. The Sheriff knew that the comments and behavior he was publically attributing to Jeffrey Thurman were wholly out of character for Jeffrey Thurman, and the investigative report confirms this. The report shows that Jeffrey Thurman was actually the claimant’s greatest advocate in the Department. The Sheriff knew this fact. Further, the Sheriff knew that the complainant demonstrably misrepresented other facts in the investigation, including but not limited to, claiming that statements were allegedly made to him by multiple “others” (false), which he then narrowed to a statement attributed to one specific other (false), claiming that Sgt. Thurman was likely responsible for his not being given a position in 2016 (false), that Sgt. Thurman was likely responsible for his not getting a position in 2018 (false), and that Sgt. Thurman acknowledged the statement reported under circumstances which objectively could not have happened in the manner proffered (false). The sexual harassment reported by the Sheriff was the Sheriff’s allegation alone, not that of any reporting claimant, and harassment is not supported by the report. The report shows that the Sheriff also added a claim charging Sgt. Thurman with making false statements, which was equally deemed to be unfounded.
The Sheriff’s publication of this report as showing Jeffrey Thurman to be a lying, racist law enforcement officer who hunted black suspects and sexually harassed females is defamation per se because it is a blatantly false characterization of that report and of Jeffrey Thurman, it exposed and exposes Jeffrey Thurman to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy, and it has deprived him of the benefit of public confidence and/or social intercourse, and injured him in his occupation.
No conditional or other privilege applies to the Sheriff’s publication in the defamatory manner occurring here. Although the Sheriff’s conference statements allegedly originated in a report of an official action, his publication of that report was not accurate and complete, nor was it a fair abridgment of the report and its occurrences. Moreover, Jeffrey Thurman was not acting as a public figure in any of even the alleged events referenced in the report itself. 3F 4 Moreover, the Sheriff has no immunity for his media statements as they were not part of any judicial or law enforcement process, nor part of any supervisory process, but instead, were statements made gratuitously for media purposes.4F 5
The Sheriff intentionally escalated the damage he did to Jeffrey Thurman. He has poisoned any Civil Service Appeal by his public statements. He publicized his intent that Jeffrey Thurman “can never interact with the public again.” He stated that, regardless of any civil service process, “he is not coming back to work here. You will force me to bring him back. And when you do, you better explain to me what I do with him because he can never interact with the public again.” Such statements unnecessarily escalated the already profound damage from the damaging publication and were so intended.
Damages include loss of wages, inability to mitigate, actual harm caused to reputation of the person defamed, and emotional distress and bodily harm caused by the defamatory publication;” as well as special harm legally caused by the defamatory publication. 5F 6
C. Outrage/Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, based upon the above and the video evidence. The Sheriff’s manner of publication was (1) extreme and outrageous conduct, (2) the conduct intentionally and/or recklessly inflicted emotional distress upon Jeffrey Thurman, and (3) the actual result to Jeffrey Thurman was severe emotional distress.6F 7
D. Tortious Interference with a Business Expectancy, in that by such defamation per se and false light publication, the Sheriff has interfered with Jeffrey Thurman’s ongoing business expectancy in retaining his position and in his being able to be hired elsewhere, either in law enforcement or otherwise.
The incident was committed by Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich