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Former Spokane deputy sues sheriff's office, department pushing to have case dismissed

Andrew Richmond was one of only two black officers in the department. He claims deputy Jeff Thurman used racist comments while they worked together.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — New court documents are providing a better understanding of a lawsuit against the Spokane County Sheriff's Office.

A former deputy sued, claiming a hostile work environment after he reported another deputy for racist comments. Now, the sheriff's office has filed to have the case dismissed.

Andrew Richmond joined the Spokane County Sheriff's office in 2014. He was one of only two black officers in the department.

When he was transferred to the Valley precinct two years later, Richmond claims several fellow officers told him to "watch out for Deputy Jeff Thurman," calling him "racist."

Then in December of 2016, Richmond says he overheard Thurman use the n-word, asking another deputy if they were "ready to kill some (racial slur) tonight or what?"

And a few days later, Richmond says Thurman approached him and defended his language, saying he was only "referring to inner city black people who loot and riot."

Richmond says he wanted to come forward but "feared retaliation." When he told three superior officers what he'd witnessed, he says "they took no action."

Records state that in 2018 Thurman was promoted to become Richmond's direct supervisor, "even though they knew about Thurman's racist conduct."

Documents go on to say there were multiple reports of Thurman using the n-word on and off duty. KREM 2 also obtained copies of a deposition with Undersheriff Dave Ellis. When asked if he should have reported Thurman's use of the racial slur, he said yes and agreed that Thurman never should have been promoted to Richmond's supervisor, saying, "I have a lot to regret about this."

In early 2019, Richmond says he was finally ready to file a formal complaint with Internal Affairs after Thurman referred to black citizens as "colored people" during roll call. Richmond says he was assured of confidentiality, but that it "quickly became common knowledge" that he was the complainant.

Richmond says other officers then "excluded, shunned and ostracized" him. When he took his concerns to Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, he was involuntarily transferred to a less-desirable isolated area on the Whitman County line.

One month later, the sheriff fired Jeff Thurman, saying his comments and use of the n-word were unacceptable.

The sheriff's office has never denied that Thurman used the n-word, but says some of Richmond's claims are inaccurate. New court documents on behalf of the sheriff's office say it was 'voluntary' when Richmond was transferred to the Whitman County line and that it didn't affect his salary or title.

Records go on to say that "Richmond was never promised that his identity would be kept confidential" and that his accusations of a hostile work environment "lack evidence" and "fall outside the statute of limitations."

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