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Former Spokane Co. sergeant had history of using racial slurs, report says

Jeff Thurman was fired on June 13 after a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said he allegedly spoke to a colleague about killing minorities.

WARNING: This story contains strong language.

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Documents from a Spokane County Sheriff’s Office internal investigation detail the allegations that led to the firing of Sergeant Jeff Thurman.

Thurman was fired on June 13 after a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said he allegedly spoke to a colleague about killing minorities. Thurman later filed a tort claim seeking nearly $12.5 million in damages from Spokane County in response to his firing.

Thurman is the former handler of well-known K-9 Laslo, who assisted in the arrest of more than 470 suspects. Laslo died last year after a long battle with seizures.

Thurman began his employment with the sheriff’s office in July 2001.

Through a public records request, KREM 2 obtained the investigative report that includes the original complaint, interviews with witnesses and documents sent to Thurman throughout the investigation. Names of the witnesses and complainant have been redacted. 

RELATED: Fired Spokane Co. sergeant who allegedly discussed killing minorities files $12.5M claim

Deputy makes complaint 

According to the report, on May 8, a deputy complained to the Office of Professional Standards about hearing Thurman use a racial slur while talking to another deputy and hearing him use an insensitive term when referring to a black suspect. The deputy said Thurman confronted him about the incident and believed it was a factor in why he was not promoted on two occasions, the report says.

On May 8, Sgt. Tim Hines interviewed the complainant about the incident that was later determined to have occurred on Dec. 22, 2016, the report said. The deputy said he was on a call when Thurman called another deputy who answered through his car’s Bluetooth speaker. According to the report, the deputy heard Thurman say, “You ready to kill some n****** tonight or what?”

He said the other deputy didn’t say anything to him about it afterwards.

“A couple days later, he was approached by Jeff outside the roll-call room at the V.P. at which time Jeff attempted to explain the statement he had heard him make on the phone to {redacted}. He indicated that he believes {redacted} had told Jeff that he, {redacted}, had heard what he said over the phone. He said Jeff told him that with what he said, he meant like the inner-city black people, that he can’t stand those black people that loot and riot, and that kind of stuff and that he wasn’t talking about black people as a whole,” Hines wrote in the report.

The deputy then described how he was passed over on a position in the Air Support Unit sometime in 2018, the report said. He said when he talked to a sergeant about being recommended for the position, he was told that “Command Staff” didn’t want him in the Air Unit and they decided not to recommend him because they wanted another deputy.

He said that before he left the office, he was told he needed to keep his mouth shut about it because it could affect him getting a different position in the future, the report stated.

The deputy said he couldn’t help but think that “part of the stuff that he has heard from Jeff had something to do with him not getting it, and that he doesn’t have any other explanation,” the report said.  

In the report, Hines later asked the deputy if he is concerned that he may have been discriminated against because of his race. His response was “definitely,” the report said.

Hines wrote in the report that the deputy has always felt comfortable talking about race.

“He said he is light about it and will joke about anything but the moment that it crosses the line to where it’s completely racist he doesn’t stand for it at all,” the report stated.

The deputy described another incident where he was passed up for a promotion. He said before he applied for the ASU position, he applied for an opening as a K9 handler in January 2017. According to the report, the deputy said he trained and volunteered as a quarry with the K9 unit for over a year before applying.

“He described having a conversation with Jeff prior to the selection process during which Jeff told him that he thought that Dep. Clay Hilton deserved the spot over him,” the report said. “He said he questioned Jeff about why he felt that way and was told that he, Jeff, thought Clay had been a quarry some time ago at Kootenai or something like that.”

According to the report, the deputy believed his race was part of the decision-making process for the position.

The report states that later in the interview the deputy described a more recent incident where he heard Thurman use an offensive racial term.

“He told me that during a roll-call before the most recent markup changes, but after Jeff had been promoted to sergeant, Jeff was talking and kept referring to a suspect as ‘the colored guy,’” the report stated.

The deputy said he thought another sergeant had pulled Thurman aside and told him that it wasn’t okay to refer to people that way, the report said.

Hines wrote that after this interview Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich decided to place Thurman on administrative leave immediately.

Hines wrote that when he interviewed the other sergeant about the incident, he said he didn’t address Thurman about what he said at the time. He did have a subsequent conversation with him about race in the context of an incident involving his own son who is black, the report stated.

RELATED: Former handler of K9 ‘Laslo’ fired after he allegedly discussed killing minorities

Witness says he's heard Thurman use racial slurs 'jokingly'

The next day, Hines interviewed the deputy who took the phone call where Thurman had allegedly said the racial slur. The deputy told Hines he did not remember the specific incident but didn’t say it didn’t happen.

During the interview, the deputy was asked if he had ever heard Thurman use the n-word, either on or off duty, in a serious or joking manner.

“He said yes and went on to tell me that he has heard him use the word ‘n*****’ and that he has heard it more than once. He added that it’s not like Jeff uses that word all the time, and told me that he personally doesn’t think Sgt. Thurman is a racist,” the report stated. “He said that the one thing that comes to mind was some time ago when the Black Lives Matter movement was going on and they were killing cops and doing all this stuff. He said it’s usually when he is pissed off about something that’s happened like that.”

The deputy was asked if he’s heard Thurman use the n-word or other racist or derogatory epithet. He said “yeah, maybe jokingly,” the report said.

“Anytime he’s heard this…come out of his mouth, other than maybe being pissed off about something that’s happened on the news or something that’s happened on the news or something like that, it’s typically a joking thing,” the report said.

In the report, the deputy said it would be fair to say Thurman has no reservations about using the n-word in his presence or in conversation with him.

Investigator looks into discrimination complaints

On May 14, Hines received copies of the letters of intent, resumes and supervisor endorsement forms for the candidates for the Air Support Unit position the complaint had applied for. While looking through the documents, Hines wrote in the report that “it doesn’t appear that the score sheets completed by the members of the oral board were preserved.”

The report said the person who provided those documents weren’t sure who on the team was in charge of the selection process but that it could only be two people, whose names were redacted.

On May 15, Hines received a packet of documents regarding the K9 handler application and selection process. The report said the six applicants were asked 11 questions and four board members decided on their performance and ranked them. The report said Deputy Hilton was ranked first and the complainant was ranked fifth. The report said members of the K9 unit where asked if they had a problem with the top three candidates and it’s unclear if Thurman was among those members.

Other board members said that Thurman actually advocated for the complainant, the records said.

The investigator wrote "there is no evidence that Sgt. Thurman discriminated against" the deputy.

Thurman notified of allegations

On May 29, the report said Thurman was notified of four separate allegations against him that were being investigated. The notice instructed him to write an administrative report where he addressed each allegation by June 4, the report said.    

According to the report, the allegations include the incident on Dec. 22, 2016, where he allegedly said in a phone call, “You ready to kill some n***** tonight or what?”

The second allegation said Thurman yelled, “You f***ing n*****,” after seeing someone throw garbage out of a vehicle, the report said.

According to the report, the third allegation said Thurman made statements to a female deputy about her upcoming trip to Air Support Unit training. Thurman was asked of making statements about him sharing a hotel room with her during the trip, and a statement along the lines of her needing to be careful because there will be a lot of single guys there and she could end up pregnant.

The last allegation accused Thurman of discriminating against another deputy because of his race during the selection process for an Air Support Unit position.

Thurman responds to allegations

According to the report, Thurman’s response to the first allegation, “I do not ever recall making the alleged comment.”

His response to the second allegation reads, “I do not ever recall making the alleged comment.”

Thurman’s response about the comment to the female deputy “was that he did, in a joking conversation, make a comment about Deputy {redacted} having to stay in his room. He also stated that he went on to say something to her similar to he would have to act like she was his sister to protect her at the conference so she wouldn’t end up coming home pregnant with all the LA pilots down there trying to hook up with her due to the fact there aren’t many female TFO’s,” the report stated.

His response to the discrimination allegation said that in comparison to the other applicants the deputy in question didn’t present himself well in the oral board interview and denied discrimination against the deputy because of his race or any other reason, the report stated.     

Thurman's interview with investigator

Hines later interviewed Thurman on June 6, according to the report. The report said he asked Thurman if he thought the deputy in question would tell him something that wasn’t true and he said no. He also confirmed that he didn’t recall the statement referred to in the first allegation against him.

Hines asked him if it was fair to say that it’s possible that he did make the statement but just doesn’t remember and didn’t answer the question and reiterated that he didn’t recall making it, the report said.

“He says he doesn’t recall, he isn’t saying he’s sure it didn’t happen and that it’s possible that he did. He again failed to directly answer my question and proceeded to talk about his {redacted} and his drinking and other previous {redacted due to medical records}. He then said, ‘So, could there have been a time I talk to him and said some shit? Maybe. I don’t know. But I can honestly say I 100 percent do not recall making that statement,’” the report said.

Hines then questioned him about the comments he made to a female deputy. The report said he admitted that the comments were inappropriate.

Hines wrote that he asked him if based on his statement in the administrative report regarding his use of the n-word, if that meant he had never used the word, or referred to someone with that word, either on or off-duty in the context of being angry or upset.

“He contemplated his response for approximately nine seconds before answering, ‘That is correct,’” the report said.

Hines then told him that others had said they have heard him use the word and he “responded that he’s been going to see a doctor with his stuff going on, and that part of it is angry outbursts and stuff so maybe it is out of anger sometimes,” the report stated.

Hines brought it to his attention that he had never used that word.

“He then added that he would change it to ‘I don’t know.’ He then said, ‘So, yes, I told you that’s correct. Let me change my response and correct myself and tell you I don’t know. I do get angry and upset. I have shit that goes on and so I have to – I would- the more appropriate answer would be I don’t know.’”

On June 7, Hines was instructed by the sheriff to issue Thurman a fifth allegation of making false or misleading statements, the report said. Hines then notified Thurman of that allegation.

The same day, Hines determined the investigation was complete and forwarded it to Knezovich for review.

Thurman was fired six days later.       

KREM 2 reached out to both Thurman and the Spokane County Sheriff's Office. Thurman referred us to his attorney due to the pending lawsuit. The Sheriff's Office said they had nothing further to add.