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Knezovich defends deputy firings

Published On: Aug 01 2013 07:56:13 PM CDT   Updated On: Aug 01 2013 08:37:30 PM CDT
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich
SPOKANE, Wash. -

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich is fighting back against claims that he's fired too many of his employees.

Since he took office in 2006, Knezovich has terminated or forced the resignation of 51 people. 10 of those employees were sheriff's deputies and 41 of them worked in the Spokane County Jail.

The reasons behind those firings show even people entrusted with a badge and gun are susceptible to the same temptations the rest of us face.

Every time the sheriff fires one of his deputies taxpayers lose the $80,000 invested in their hiring, training and some of their equipment.

A group made up of former deputies called "Integrity First" claims Knezovich isn't trying hard enough to salvage their careers, so Thursday the sheriff sat down to review each of those firings.

"Committing crimes on duty … stabbing a seat, lying, putting your hands down the pants of a co-worker," Knezovich said.

Just two months after Knezovich was sworn in as sheriff, a detective he played racquetball with three times a week exposed himself at a drive-through espresso stand. Days later the sheriff had to fire one of his friends.

"I've had to terminate some of the closest friends I've had in my career, and that wasn't easy, but it doesn't buy you anything special if you're not performing or you're going to dishonor this badge," Knezovich said.

At least 10 of the people Knezovich fired were involved in sex-driven scandals and one of the amorous officers even put his fellow patrol deputies at risk.

"We had a deputy who was dating females on duty and he, after hearing that there was a Code 6, which means an officer needs help now didn't respond," Knezovich said.

The majority of the firings involved the jail staff; 41 people sacked for everything from dating inmates to introducing contraband into the jail and making a suicidal prisoner do naked jumping jacks in front of other prisoners.

"The corrections deputy who had the inmate do the jumping jacks. His supervisor told him very bluntly, you may have gotten away with that eight to ten years ago, but you will not get away with it with this sheriff because he demands the utmost professionalism," Knezovich said.

If there is a bright side in all of the terminations is a lot of the bad behavior was reported by other sheriff's employees.

"That's a healthy environment when your have staff hold staff accountable and that's the thing again that Jerry Brady, Dave Reagan and Earl Howerton knew was going on when they made these false allegations against my agency and myself," Knezovich said.

Brady, Reagan and Howerton are among the members of Integrity First and they say firing people too quickly can lead to expensive lawsuits against the county.

However, out of the 51 people Knezovich has forced out since he took over as sheriff only three of those terminations were overturned.