While former Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Saunders spent hours of his on-duty time visiting a woman, his work suffered.
He turned in only 25 reports in a seven-month period, an average of one report every three workdays, according to an internal sheriff’s office investigation. On at least one occasion investigators believe that Saunders failed to respond to a call immediately because he was at the woman’s home.
Saunders was fired in May after an investigation revealed that he also went shopping at the Airway Heights Wal-Mart and to a soccer game in Spokane Valley with the woman while on duty.
Documents show that Saunders repeatedly told investigators that he didn’t remember committing improper behaviors and several times denied doing things that he later admitted to, including activating the laser on his Taser so the woman’s cat could chase it.
On Jan. 9, Saunders was sent to a car crash at 10:43 p.m. and told dispatchers he was on his way. However, his taser log shows that he did four spark tests from 10:47 to 10:48 p.m.
Sheriff’s Office investigator Sgt. Richard Gere confronted Saunders about where he actually was during that time. “I don’t know,” Saunders replied.
“You’re supposed to be on that call,” said Gere.
“I don’t know where I was,” Saunders replied.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he believes that incident was one of several instances when Saunders was late to a call because he was at the woman’s home.
Saunders has not appealed his termination, Knezovich said.
“It’s my understanding that the union refused to represent him because they looked at the report and the evidence was overwhelming,” Knezovich said.
Spokane County Deputy Sheriffs Association president Wally Loucks confirmed that the union is not representing Saunders but refused to say why.
“It’s private,” Loucks said.
The Sheriff’s Office received a complaint in March about a deputy spending hours at a time inside a home on the West Plains. His patrol car was frequently left running out front. The car was there often enough that several neighbors, including two Spokane police officers, thought the deputy had moved in. One of the officers told investigators that he had seen the marked patrol car there at least 30 times and planned to stop by and welcome the deputy to the neighborhood.
When the woman Saunders was visiting was contacted, she claimed that she had hired Saunders for protection, documents say. However, Saunders wrote in his initial report about his behavior that she had not hired him, and there is no record that she had hired Saunders.
Saunders told investigators that he met the woman at an alarm call in August 2013. Saunders said it was a “trusting friendship” and the relationship was not sexual. Saunders said he was having marriage problems and he could talk about that with the woman, who is going through a contentious divorce.
“While I was at (her) residence, I never missed any calls for service,” Saunders wrote. “I also backed my district partners whenever it was necessary.”
One neighbor started keeping a log of Saunders’ visits, including almost daily visits during part of the month of February. On Feb. 18 the log indicates Saunders was at the home from 9 p.m. to 1:20 a.m. His mileage for that shift was 46 miles. The route from his house to the woman’s house was 17 miles.
Saunders said he had no recollection of being at the woman’s house that night and computer dispatch logs do not show any activity. “Obviously, my car didn’t drive around a lot, that’s evident,” Saunders said.
The West Plains district Saunders was assigned to patrol spans several hundred square miles, said Knezovich. It’s similar in size to the district Knezovich used to patrol south of Spokane Valley that includes Rockford, Fairfield and Latah.
“I put on an easy 150 miles a night and that was without trying,” Knezovich said. “It doesn’t take very long to cover a very large chunk of ground.”
Witnesses said that they saw Saunders attending a soccer game in Spokane Valley while in uniform. Saunders told investigators that he had permission from a supervisor to attend the game, but the supervisor said he did not remember granting Saunders that permission.
On two occasions when he was fighting with his wife on his days off Saunders told her that he had been called into work. He then put on his uniform and drove to the woman’s house in his marked patrol car, which he would hide in her garage for 10 hours, according to the investigation.
Saunders said he would change out of his uniform when he arrived on those two instances, leaving his gun and Taser on the woman’s bedroom floor even though the woman has teenage children. He repeatedly ran the license plates and names of the woman’s family members and neighbors, but told investigators that he didn’t remember where he was at the time or why he ran them. Several neighbors said at the dates and times specified, their cars had been parked in their driveways.
“Deputy Saunders used deception, subterfuge and untruthfulness for seven months in order to carry on his personal relationship,” Knezovich wrote in an internal memo about Saunders’ termination. “Saunders’ conduct was unbecoming a Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy and his conduct was detrimental to the agency.”