March 12, 2011 in City

Temp agency denies firing men who found backpack bomb

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

Brandon Klaus, Sherman Welpton and Mark Steiner, from left, found the backpack bomb placed between the garbage can and brick wall, located behind Steiner, on Jan. 17, the morning of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March in downtown Spokane.
(Full-size photo)

An official from the temp agency that employed the men who found the bomb along the path of the city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. march said Friday that the company has not fired the men and that they are welcome to work other jobs.

“We’ve certainly not fired them or fired them as a result of them finding the bomb,” said Stacey Burke, Labor Ready spokeswoman. “In fact, we really appreciate their swift action and the fact they notified the right authorities immediately.”

But Brandon Klaus, 22, one of three men who found the bomb, said they were told earlier this month that they could no longer work jobs for the Spokane Public Facilities District and have been shunned from other Labor Ready jobs, too.

Klaus, Mark Steiner and Sherman Welpton were employed by the temp agency Labor Ready and working for the Public Facilities District on Jan. 17 when they found the backpack that contained the bomb. The district operates the INB Performing Arts Center, where the march originates.

Asked if the district requested that Labor Ready not use the men for district jobs, Burke said she “can’t speak for the SPFD.”

Burke stressed that the agency provides temporary work.

“We don’t guarantee the workers a permanent temporary position,” she said. “A job may last two to four days.”

Klaus, however, said he’d been doing work for the Public Facilities District for about five months through Labor Ready.

Kevin Twohig, CEO of the district, said Thursday that the men were not let go, and noted that they were given Standing Ovation Awards for their work. Klaus said the awards came with five $10 Fred Meyer gift certificates.

Klaus said he, Steiner and Welpton were reprimanded by Public Facilities District officials for calling police about the bomb before calling them.

They also said they were scolded for providing a TV news station a photo of the bomb and were threatened with being fired if they talked to the news media.

Law enforcement officials have repeatedly praised the men for immediately calling 911 once they grew suspicious of the backpack they found in preparation of the march.

In the days after the foiled bomb attempt, the men were hailed as heroes by Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and other high-profile officials. But while police officers involved were honored by name in a brief ceremony in front of the Spokane City Council, the bomb finders say there were forced to remain anonymous.

“They said we would lose our jobs if we talked to the media,” Klaus said.

The men said they were never informed that they were being hailed by the public for their efforts.

“That didn’t trickle down to us,” Klaus said.

Early this month the men were told by Labor Ready they were no longer welcome to work for the facilities district, Klaus said, because they “were making other employees uncomfortable.”

Klaus said officials were concerned that the bomb would be a public relations problem and made it clear that they didn’t want people to correlate the incident, which occurred on district property, with the district.

Twohig has praised the men’s efforts but added that there were concerns that they “were messing around with the bomb.”

Klaus said that when Steiner first found the bag the three of them set it on a bench and spent probably two minutes or less examining it before they decided it was potentially dangerous and police should be called.

“How were we supposed to know?” said Klaus, in response to the concerns that they opened the backpack. “There’s no training for finding a bomb.”

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