Arrow-right Camera


Claim alleges corruption

Tue., June 13, 2006

A former Bonner County sheriff’s deputy says he was fired in retaliation for issuing tickets to retired cops and telling supervisors that co-workers were spending their shifts watching movies.

John Lunde, a 19-year employee of the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office, filed a tort claim against the county Monday seeking more than $500,000 or his old job back, along with a guarantee from Sheriff Elaine Savage that supervisors in the department would stop harassing him.

Savage wouldn’t comment on the claim or the numerous allegations of corruption – from officers having sex on duty to seizing alcohol to stock their home bars – that Lunde leveled during his termination appeal hearing.

“It’s all pending litigation and personnel matters,” Savage said Monday.

Lunde alleges he was fired April 30 – after about nine months of paid administrative leave – for writing tickets to members of the SPORTS group, an organization of retired officers.

Another former deputy, Matt Hathaway, also has made several allegations against the department. In a letter of resignation dated June 1, Hathaway said he was ordered not to write more than one ticket a day and told to have an extramarital affair to occupy his time “while on duty.” Hathaway also was placed on paid administrative leave.

When contacted by the newspaper Monday, Hathaway and Lunde referred all questions to attorney Joe Filicetti.

Filicetti, counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police in Idaho, said he has represented Lunde in two other cases and has, in the past five years, represented 15 to 20 employees from the Bonner County Sheriff’s Department.

He characterized the most recent action against Lunde, and two prior complaints – including one where another officer’s son was ticketed after a pursuit – as retaliation.

“I could see the pattern already started in that organization,” Filicetti said. “If you did something the administration didn’t like, they took disciplinary action.”

A transcript of Lunde’s appeal hearing, attached to Monday’s claim, includes excerpts from interviews conducted by Garden City (Idaho) Police Chief Jim Bensley, who was hired by the county’s insurer to do an internal investigation.

Sgt. Chris Bell told Bensley that Lt. Gary Johnston and Lt. Jim Drake told him a plan needed to be devised to stop Lunde from ticketing retired officers.

Bell said Drake told him ticketing the retirees was like “taking money out of our pockets” because the SPORTS group was lobbying to get higher wages for employees of the Sheriff’s Office.

Drake could not be reached for comment Monday and Johnston said he could not comment.

Johnston told Bensley, according to the transcript, that he never gave an order for anyone to stop writing citations to any one group.

According to the transcript, Drake said he had heard there were complaints about Lunde ticketing retired cops. He said he’d heard rumors that some of the officers had a competition going to see who could ticket the cop “with the most experience or the oldest cop in Bonner County.”

Drake also told Bensley he also heard a rumor that Johnston told deputies “not to (ticket) cops, period.”

Don Mansfield, a Bonner County resident and founder of SPORTS, said Monday he went to Drake to complain that members of his group were being pulled over and cited.

Mansfield said he didn’t think members of the group should be exempt because they were retired from law enforcement, but that “the Sheriff’s Office surely has better things to do than work misdemeanor traffic violations.”

He said most of the incidents involved members of the group who were exceeding the speed limit by only about 5 mph.

In the transcript filed with Lunde’s tort claim, though, Bell told Bensley one member of SPORTS had been ticketed for going about 17 mph over the speed limit and another for 22 mph over.

During his appeal hearing, Lunde made numerous other allegations against other employees of the Sheriff’s Office, including:

“A sergeant used alcohol seized from minors and from the evidence locker in Priest River to stock his home bar.

“A deputy attempted to steal a hubcap off an Idaho State Police patrol car; was caught having sex with a girlfriend at the Priest Lake substation; stole cigarettes from a person who was being arrested; and instructed a trainee to pull over drivers without probable cause.

“A lieutenant altered DUI statistics when applying for a grant.

“A lieutenant used graphic sexual references when referring to Lunde and threatened Lunde.

Filicetti said it wasn’t clear why Lunde was placed on administrative leave. He said other officers have been allowed to stay on the job while under investigation.

One lieutenant recently pleaded guilty to threatening a jail deputy and was sentenced to anger management classes and given a year’s probation. He was placed on paid administrative leave after his sentencing hearing, Savage said.

She said an internal investigation into that lieutenant’s criminal case is expected to be complete this week.

Though some former employees say they have been in contact with the FBI, Savage said she’s not aware of any FBI investigation into her department. Coeur d’Alene FBI Supervisor Donald Robinson said Monday that he “couldn’t confirm nor deny” whether the FBI was investigating the department.

Robinson said public corruption is the FBI’s highest criminal priority, though, and that any allegations would be taken seriously and “vigorously investigated.”

Filicetti warned Savage in a March 24 letter that he planned to file a suit against the county on Lunde’s behalf for alleged violations of the Whistleblowers Act and would “publicly call for a house cleaning in the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office” if they fired Lunde.

Now, he said he’s making good on that threat.

“John Lunde is a good man,” Filicetti said Monday. “He’s a real black-and-white, straightforward guy. When you’ve got bad cops, those guys don’t get along real well.

“That’s what you have in this situation.”


Click here to comment on this story »