Investigation of detention services cites concerns about city council candidate’s behavior

Investigation of detention services cites concerns about city council candidate’s behavior

An investigation into claims that city council candidate Phil Tyler sexual harassed female corrections officers at the Spokane County Jail found no evidence of that charge, but did reveal other allegations of misconduct.

A woman who used to work at the jail posted the claims to Facebook in February. Tyler, a former president of Spokane’s chapter of the NAACP, was one of several Spokane leaders featured in a video last fall asking men int he community to stand up against sexual harassment and assault.

The woman’s post expressed frustration that Jail Director John McGrath had, she said, facilitated the exposure of the alleged misbehavior by setting up a television interview so a female corrections officers could share their stories.

The woman did not deny that the behavior occurred- but she did not feel the situation was being addressed in a way with the women’s interests in mind.

The post specifically called out Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich who alerted the board of County Commissioners to the claims so an investigation could be launched.

The results of that investigation were submitted in June of this year, and obtained by a records request that was shared with KXLY.

The independent attorney who conducted the investigation concluded that there was no evidence of sexual harassment, as defined by the county. In an interview, the woman who posted the claims on Facebook she said she did not mean sexual harassment, as the attorney described to her, but rather bullying and demeaning language targeted at women.

The attorney also found that the jail director did not “direct” jail employees to share their stories with a television reporter, though she concluded he was involved in the process.

The report mentions several concerns noted by the investigating attorney, one about Tyler’s behavior toward female correction officers and another about the methods by which some allegations disclosed curing the course of the investigation had been addressed by the jail.

The report includes these and other allegations collected during the interviews of about a dozen current and former jail employees:

– “Lt Tyler took a photograph of a sign that was the same as a female corrections officer’s name with him standing in front of it making a thumbs down gesture in approximately 2009. Lt. Tyler emailed this to several male supervisory personnel who did not report his conduct. When this photo eventually came to light in late 2011, all involved were disciplined.

Regarding a female corrections officer who had a conflict with Tyler and requested a transfer: “Lt. Tyler came up behind the corrections officer while she was working… He put one arm on her upper left arm and the other in front of her right forearm to talk into her ear.” The report says that officer filed a complaint which was investigated internally. Tyler was not punished and the officer was later accused of/ investigated for making false statements.

– “Tyler was controlling and would speak to women in a demeaning manner.”

– “Male correction officers also alleged that Phil Tyler would target men that crossed him.”

The report details a complaint filed against Tyler in 2011- around the same time a police union submitted a no confidence letter to the jail’s director, regarding Tyler. The report states that both were investigated and ultimately dismissed by Sheriff Knezovich and the jail director.

The investigating attorney found that while there was no evidence of sexual harassment, as claimed in the Facebook post that prompted the investigation, it appeared there were “areas in which Lt. Tyler treated women differently than men” during the time he worked at the jail.

She also expressed concern that the investigations into some of the allegations above were conducted by jail staff who were close to the persons being investigated, making it “difficult for complainants to feel they can get a fair adjudication of their grievances.”

The report noted that the attitude since Tyler has not worked at the jail was reported as having improved, but that issues of trust and confidence remain. The report recommended that neutral third party investigators assess future complaints of this kind, and that detention services enhance training on gender discrimination, as distinguished from sexual harassment.

KXLY reached out to Phil Tyler on Friday morning to ask for a comment. He said that he was unable to provide context, as he was not contacted for or given information about the investigation. He did say that he knew it had been requested by Knezovich after the sheriff ” learned of an organized effort, alleged to have been directed by the current Director, to somehow connect me with sexual harassment after we jointly worked on a powerful video against sexual harassment and sexual assault.”

KXLY also reached out to the county to ask if any of the reports recommendations had been implemented. The county said it is waiting to do so- as a second investigation in reports of breaches of misconduct is currently underway at detention services.

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