A dispute over the firing of a Spokane County deputy caught having sex on duty has increased tensions between Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and his force.
The Spokane County Deputy Sheriffs Association has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the sheriff for what it contends is a violation of the fired deputy’s rights under the collective bargaining contract.
Former Deputy Scott Kenoyer was fired last August when he refused to sign an agreement with the sheriff giving him a chance to save his job. To do so, he would have had to consent to be fired then reinstated under a “last chance agreement.”
The agreement was essentially a five-year probationary period that limited the deputy’s rights to file grievances during that time. He would also have been suspended for 90 days.
The deputy sheriffs association sought to change the terms of the last chance agreement to remove the termination clause and to maintain the deputy’s grievance rights.
The unfair labor practice complaint filed with the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission has not been set for a hearing.
Kenoyer has filed a separate grievance that had been scheduled to go before a state arbitrator on March 15. That action was postponed pending the unfair labor practice complaint.
Knezovich said he is confident he can win the two cases, in part because Kenoyer told him the incident occurred during his break and investigators later discovered he had not been on a break. Even if he had, he still would have faced discipline, Knezovich said.
“Citizens don’t pay us to have sex on duty,” the sheriff said. “Those extra five, 10, 15 minutes means a world in our response time.”
Deputy Walter Loucks, the deputy sheriffs association president, declined comment.
The episode came to light during an investigation of Spokane police Officer Jeff Graves, who was cleared of criminal wrongdoing on allegations that he stalked and harassed the same woman. Graves subsequently resigned.
According to the unfair labor practice complaint, Kenoyer had a brief encounter with the woman. She “had a long held fantasy to have sexual relations with a law enforcement officer while he was still dressed in law enforcement apparel,” the complaint said.
Kenoyer had been recently divorced.
The complaint said Knezovich initially told Kenoyer the indiscretion was not serious, but later changed his position and insisted on the last chance agreement that called for the deputy’s firing and reinstatement.
“By continuing to threaten discharge in order to induce a waiver of grievance rights in a case where such a discharge was not objectively reasonable, Sheriff Knezovich unlawfully interfered with the rights of the association and its member …” the complaint said.
Knezovich said he never told Kenoyer the incident was not serious.
The complaint also contends that Knezovich, a Mormon, approaches disciplinary decisions consistent with his “personal morality.”
“Throwing anybody’s religion into this is purely politically motivated,” said Knezovich, who is facing a challenge this year from Spokane police Detective Douglas Orr. Both are running as Republicans.
Knezovich said the last chance agreement offered to Kenoyer is the county’s standard approach to cases of serious misconduct where an employee is allowed to keep their job.
That information was explained to Kenoyer and two association representatives, Loucks and Michael Wall, according to public records.
The dispute over Kenoyer’s firing comes in the middle of a two-year contract dispute between the county and the deputies.
In November, the county filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the deputy sheriffs association for changing its position on salary increase demands prior to binding arbitration. That arbitration is on hold.
In going to arbitration, the association sought a retroactive wage increase ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent for each of three years through 2014, county officials said. Their contract expired at the end of 2011.
The county contends that the last negotiated position by the deputies called for a salary increase ranging from 2 percent to 2.77 percent annually and tied to the Consumer Price Index.
State figures show that deputies in Spokane make $40 an hour after 12 years of service and $41.50 after 18 years.
The association has also filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Knezovich for cautioning the association president against public comments that disparage the Sheriff’s Office.
Knezovich has drawn opposition from law enforcement unions for seeking to make it harder for arbitrators to reinstate deputies or officers who are found guilty of wrongdoing.
The sheriff was forced to reinstate two fired employees – a deputy and a jailer – in recent years despite evidence that they had violated the law while on duty.
A bill to limit arbitrators’ ability to reinstate officers died last year in the Legislature.
A separate bill this year to give the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission additional power to revoke certifications of officers involved in wrongdoing has stalled in the state Senate.
Knezovich said he has never known of an officer keeping his job after being caught having sex while on duty.
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