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Spokane NAACP: Racist, threatening comment by sheriff's sergeant raises concerns

SPOKANE, Wash. - New findings that a Spokane County sheriff's sergeant spoke about killing black people, used a racist slur and sexually harassed a female coworker have some local advocates worried about the culture at this law enforcement agency. 

Sergeant Jeff Thurman, known for his work with K9 Laslo, was terminated following an investigation by the Sheriff's Office of Professional Standards (OPS)

The investigation stemmed from an internal complaint which led to Thurman being placed on administrative leave on May 8, pending a thorough OPS investigation.

The complaint alleged Thurman, while off-duty, placed a phone call to an on-duty deputy in December of 2016.  The deputy answered the phone call over a Bluetooth speaker while parked next to another deputy in a separate patrol vehicle. Thurman started the conversation with the question, “You ready to kill some (racial slur) tonight or what?”  

Additionally, SCSO said Thurman made statements of sexual harassment and acted in a way unbecoming of a deputy/supervisor. 

Kurtis Robinson, who serves as chapter president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, said while he thanks the sheriff's office for "taking the decisive action" on this matter, there are remaining concerns. 

"When we look at this as an organization and for justice for all peoples, it raises a lot of concerns about what the existing undercurrent is within that," Robinson said. "I remember that Sheriff Ozzie said this is not an issue of a culture, but the reality is that in some ways it is."

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich maintained he's not worried about the culture in his department. 

"I hope people understand that this is the rarity," Sheriff Knezovich said. "The sergeant involved in this let down his community and he let down his agency and he let down his profession. This isn't who we are."

Robinson encouraged the agency to continue with trainings and look for better ways to help staff cope with the stress of their job in healthy ways. 

"The reality is that we have human beings doing this very tough and often toxic work and how is this affecting them? How are they actually processing that within their organizational structure in a restorative and healthy way?" Robinson said. 


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