August 4, 2010 in City

Discipline dispensed after jail death

Deputies didn’t perform required inmate checks
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Penalties against four Spokane County Jail deputies who allowed an inmate’s death to go undetected for eight hours range from dismissal to a reprimand.

Workplace charges in the Nov. 11 death of Fredrick James Juhnke were filed in February and March. Video surveillance and interviews revealed that Kenneth Downey, Lloyd Nolan, David Hatton and Jeff Way failed to make required half-hourly checks on inmates’ welfare, but there was no allegation that they caused or could have prevented Juhnke’s death.

An autopsy showed Juhnke, 58, died of a ruptured aortal aneurism – a burst artery.

Documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the state Public Records Act indicate Nolan previously had been reprimanded for verbal abuse and harassment. He was allowed to resign in lieu of termination when he agreed not to file a grievance or lawsuit.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said in June that he fired Downey for failure to do his job, falsifying his logbook and lying about it to investigators. Hatton was suspended, and Way was reprimanded.

Nolan’s deal prohibits county officials from telling prospective employers about allegations that he falsified a log and lied about it.

Like the others, Nolan admitted he didn’t check inmates for signs of life as required. He also admitted violating an order not to talk to other deputies while disciplinary charges were pending against him.

In his written response to charges, Nolan blamed a faulty memory for what investigators said was a lie when he claimed not to have made a false log entry.

“It appears that I am guilty of this allegation,” the eight-year veteran officer stated when advised the entry was in his handwriting. “However I was answering honestly to the best of my recollection.”

Downey also tried to deflect blame. He said in a hearing that he didn’t lie but may have had “some faulty recollection.”

As president of the jail deputies’ union at the time, Downey said what “stuck in my mind” from that fatal Veterans Day was a lot of “needy” deputies asking him about impending layoffs.

Gordon Smith Jr., staff representative for the jail deputies’ union, said the public shouldn’t tar the entire 135-member corrections staff with the same brush.

“The few who have made mistakes have suffered the consequences,” Smith said.

Hatton’s and Way’s hearings suggest the key to survival was to tell no lies and make no excuses.

“I want to thank you for being, lately, one of the few employees who have actually bought what they’ve done,” Knezovich told Way. Knezovich gave Way a letter of reprimand and an expression of confidence: “You’re too good for this.”

Way had been employed eight years and had no prior discipline.

Hatton also had no prior discipline, although he was among the deputies involved in a January 2006 incident in which a combative inmate, 39-year-old Benites S. Sichiro, died. Hatton had been on the force eight months at the time.

Spokane County paid $425,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Sichiro’s children.

In the Juhnke case, Knezovich suspended Hatton for two weeks and gave him a “last-chance” agreement. If Hatton commits any similar violation in the next three years, he is to be fired automatically.

In addition to dereliction-of-duty charges, Hatton was accused of treating inmates disrespectfully. He pushed Juhnke’s lunch – packaged food and an apple – off a door-mounted serving tray and onto his cell floor when Juhnke failed to take it from the tray.

Hatton said he didn’t check on Juhnke because Downey had just been in the cell to deliver mail. Downey said he thought Juhnke was asleep.

“I thought I was providing a service to the inmate by not making him get out of bed to retrieve his food,” Hatton told Knezovich.

Juhnke’s death wasn’t discovered until dinnertime, when another deputy investigated.

Downey, Nolan and Way were earning $53,616 a year when the workplace charges were filed; Hatton, $51,011.

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