Picketing Deputies Make Case For Pay Raise Commissioners’ Offer Grows To $260,000, But Group Says Dangerous Work Rates More

Three years ago, Sgt. Brad Maskell had to decide whether to shoot a man who was holding a hostage at gunpoint.

He chose to pull the trigger and end one man’s life in order to save another.

“To this day I still have nightmares,” he said Friday while carrying a picket sign at the Kootenai County Courthouse. “What is the weight of a decision like that worth?”

Kootenai County Sheriff’s deputies believe the job they do and the decisions they make are worth more than the commissioners pay them.

On Friday more than 50 deputies picketed the Kootenai County Courthouse. They are asking for $450,000 in pay raises for 100 or so sheriff’s employees.

Passing drivers honked and waved their support as deputies carried signs reading “Pennies for Protection,” and “We’ve always been here for you - support us.”

Deputies are prohibited by law from striking. However, about 20 resigned from the sheriff’s department dive rescue team, SWAT team and hostage negotiation team this week. Those are voluntary positions and the deputies will continue with their regular duties.

Sgt. Dan Soumas, president of the Kootenai County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, said the deputies will not continue volunteer emergency services until the commissioners offer a better pay raise and a revised pay system.

But Kootenai County Commissioner Dick Compton said he has already offered the deputies all the money they are going to get.

Compton said he recently offered the sheriff’s department $230,000 in raises on behalf of the commissioners. He upped that offer Friday morning to $260,000.

“We’ve heard from hundreds of people in this community that they don’t want us to raise taxes,” he said.

Pat Raffee, executive director of Concerned Businesses of North Idaho, said she thinks the commissioners’ offer is fair.

“There’s not enough money in the world to compensate someone for saving a person’s life,” she said.

But on Friday, Rob Elder, owner of Cricket’s Restaurant, said he’s willing to pay more for the deputies.

“I have waitresses making better pay than they are,” he said, after stopping at the courthouse to show support for deputies. One waitress at Cricket’s made $32,000 last year.

By comparison, Deputy Barry Alleman makes $27,393 a year after eight years at the sheriff’s department.

“I’ve been hit in the face with a beer bottle, I’ve fallen through a ceiling, I’ve been shot at and I’ve had people try to run me over,” Alleman said.

Kootenai County has spent more than $20,000 to train Deputy Darrell Stidham and his police dog, but he is now considering moving to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department.

He has worked at the Kootenai department for more than six years and makes $26,000 a year. If he worked in Spokane he would make at least $40,440 a year, according to Spokane County officials.

Kootenai County deputies say they’re tired of risking their lives while making far less than their peers. A beginning sheriff’s deputy makes $1,834 a month, while a beginning Coeur d’Alene Police officer makes $2,043 a month.

After 10 years, a city police officer makes $2,874 a month. The maximum pay for a sheriff’s deputy is $2,751 month. But Deputy Wes Krueger has worked at the department for 18 years and still hasn’t been given the maximum pay.

Soumas said the commissioners’ offer would have provided money for some officers, while leaving many of the veteran officers with nothing.

The deputies’ resignations from the special teams will be seen when the department responds to emergencies.

Undersheriff Gary Cuff said a citizen diver will be called to search for drowning victims. A response from a volunteer may take longer than having the deputies do it.

Deputies will handle situations normally reserved for specially trained officers. However, if one of the SWAT officers is on duty at the time, he will respond to the scene, Cuff said.

Despite all the difficulties, there’s no doubt in Charlotte Weaver’s mind that deputies such as Maskell deserve more money. She believes Maskell saved her life the day he was forced to shoot her abusive husband.

Bob Weaver had been holding his wife and her friend hostage at gunpoint, threatening to kill them both when he was shot.

“The deputies put their lives on the line … and they have to make some darn hard decisions,” she said Friday. “Brad (Maskell) saved many lives that day.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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