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Council candidate involved in discrimination lawsuit against Spokane County

One of the candidates vying to replace Jon Snyder on the Spokane City Council is in the midst of a discrimination lawsuit against Spokane County.

Phillip Tyler, who worked for 15 years at the Spokane County Jail and earned the rank of lieutenant before resigning in December 2014, alleges he was discriminated against because of his race and that his coworkers and supervisors created a hostile work environment.

Tyler is among seven finalists for appointment to Snyder’s seat by the City Council on Monday. He said he didn’t think the lawsuit should affect his ability to serve effectively on joint county-city matters.

“That’s one of the issues I want to work on, having the city and county work more effectively together,” Tyler said.

The lawsuit alleges Tyler was “subjected to an ongoing pattern of racial animus and hostility by his coworkers and other county personnel.” Tyler said he resigned Dec. 15, 2014, after working in the jail since February 1999. He filed a complaint against the county two days later.

Spokane County, in its answer to the lawsuit, said any discipline Tyler faced was not due to his race. The county said it “investigated continuing complaints by other employees about (Tyler’s) behavior.”

The case is scheduled to go to trial this May in Spokane County Superior Court.

Tyler is not the only candidate for Snyder’s job who has taken legal action against local governments. Breean Beggs, a private civil rights attorney who currently represents the Spokane Police Ombudsman Commission, sued the city on behalf of the estate of Otto Zehm, who was killed in an incident involving Spokane police in 2006.

Tyler is also not the only candidate up for Snyder’s seat whose background shows involvement with the courts. Patricia Hansen filed a lawsuit in small claims court against landlord Arlin Jordan in May 2014, according to court records.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who ran the Spokane County Jail from his appointment in April 2006 through June 2013, when Spokane County commissioners assumed control, wrote the City Council to support Tyler’s appointment, citing his strong leadership skills.

“Mr. Tyler was promoted (to lieutenant) because of his unwavering commitment to excellence and integrity,” Knezovich wrote. “Phil was known for doing the right thing for the right reasons.”

Knezovich said in an interview he is aware of the lawsuit Tyler filed against Spokane County and didn’t think it would interfere with his ability to serve on the council.

“I had the honor of promoting Phil to the rank of lieutenant. He was the first African-American to be promoted to that rank in the sheriff’s department,” Knezovich said. “Unfortunately, he did suffer some discrimination over that.”

Tyler had been contacted by law enforcement twice for incidents involving allegations of domestic violence. A malicious mischief charge was dismissed against him in 1992, when he was 25 years old, after he paid for damages to an apartment of a woman he’d been dating, according to court records. A dispute with his ex-wife in 1998 prompted a request by the woman for a domestic violence protection order against Tyler. Tyler said his ex-wife was preventing him from seeing their son.

The lawsuit and domestic violence issues were found by the newspaper in a routine background check of the council candidates.

Tyler said he didn’t think those incidents should preclude him from serving on the Spokane City Council.

“They are allegations that other people are bringing against me, specifically to discredit me to serve on the council,” Tyler said.

Knezovich said he wasn’t aware of Tyler’s domestic violence cases from the mid-1990s. But a department background check cleared him to carry a gun, Knezovich said, which means the cases never rose to disqualifying him from law enforcement.

Staff writer Nina Culver contributed to this report.


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