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Deputy under investigation faked radio traffic to appear busy

A deputy under investigation for parking for hours at a woman’s home while on duty made it look like he was busy by calling in names and license plate numbers for dispatchers to run, said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

Deputy Todd Saunders, 39, would collect names and plate numbers ahead of time, Knezovich said. “It appeared that he was busy, but he was doing it all from the confines of her home,” he said.

The people who had their information run through the system without cause have been contacted and apologies have been made, Knezovich said. “None of them are happy,” he said. “This is a very serious breach.”

Several of the license plates Saunders used belonged to the estranged husband of the woman Saunders was spending time with. He filed for a protection order against Saunders, saying he felt that Saunders might retaliate against him. The protection order was denied after a court hearing Friday.

Use of the statewide computer system is regulated and police agencies are audited regularly. Knezovich said he has self-reported the improper use of the system. “If we were negligent and didn’t take care of this situation, we could lose our right to access it,” he said.

The person who made the complaint against Saunders said his patrol car would be parked in the driveway of the woman’s home for hours, often with the engine running. That may have been done to empty the gas tank to simulate a night on patrol, Knezovich said. Saunders was responsible for patrolling an area that was 300 square miles.

Knezovich said his department doesn’t routinely check the miles put on patrol cars and compare it to the amount of gas used unless suspicions have been raised. The investigation has determined that there is at least one night where Saunders only put 42 miles on his patrol car, he said. It is 17 miles from Saunders’ home to the woman’s home on the West Plains.

It appears that the visits to the woman’s home began last August, Knezovich said.

The investigation should be complete next week and then Saunders will be offered a Loudermill hearing. “Loudermill is his chance to tell his side of the story,” he said. “He doesn’t have to give any response.”

After the hearing and an examination of the evidence, Knezovich will decide on Saunders’ punishment. “This is one of those situations that could be terminal,” he said.