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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Deputy says he was led on

The former sheriff’s detective who exposed himself to a barista at an Airway Heights espresso stand is asking for his job back, arguing the woman dressed provocatively and led him on.

“I take responsibility. But I don’t take full responsibility,” Joseph Mastel, 52, told members of the Spokane County Civil Service Commission this week.

Mastel, who was a frequent customer at the On Alert coffee stand, claims the woman often “bent over, exposing herself” while serving coffee and that the two had joked about wet T-shirt contests shortly before he chose to expose himself June 16.

But whether any of that happened, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says it’s irrelevant; he stands behind his decision to fire Mastel six days after the incident. Knezovich says Mastel’s excuses amount to little more than blaming the victim.

Making the final call will be the three-member Civil Service Commission, which expects to announce a decision in January. Commissioners have a variety of options in the case, including reinstating Mastel, putting him back on the force at a lesser rank or affirming Knezovich’s firing.

In addition to his contention that the victim led him on, Mastel argues that Knezovich failed to give him proper written notice of the disciplinary hearing at which he was fired and that his full career, including awards he won for his service, should have been considered.

Knezovich contends the dismissal was necessary to restore public trust in the Sheriff’s Office.The victim was so shaken by the June incident that she was crying when Airway Heights police responded to the scene, reports show.

She told police in written testimony that the two joked around, but she never expected that kind of behavior from him.

“I just couldn’t believe what had just happened,” the victim said in a statement to Airway Heights police. “He must have thought it would be funny and I would take it as a joke, but it was not. It was violating.”

Mastel, according to the Airway Heights police report of the incident, told officers that he felt he and the barista enjoyed a flirtatious relationship and that there was discussion between the two that amounted to “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.”

The 13-year veteran of the department was charged in Airway Heights with indecent exposure stemming from the incident. Late last month, an Airway Heights municipal court judge deferred Mastel’s sentence. Under the agreement, the charge will be dismissed in a year as long as he completes mental health treatment and obeys the law.

According to the victim’s statements to police, she had accepted an offer from Mastel in June to buy sausage made from pigs he raised. When he showed up in a private vehicle with the sausage a few days later, he laid down five bags of sausage in the window, asked her if she “wanted to see some more” and exposed himself, saying “look, see,” according to the report.

In a statement to the court, Mastel says he was under “extreme stress” at work and at home.

“During times of stress certain incidents from my youth begin to manifest themselves causing impulsive decisions,” Mastel wrote. “… I feel without treatment the issues will resurface and cause impulsive decisions, which may result in conduct similar to the current matter.”

Knezovich said the statement is more proof of why Mastel should not be allowed back in a sheriff’s uniform.

Following the Civil Service Commission hearing Monday, Knezovich said Mastel’s excuses and inability to take full responsibility for his behavior made him even more disgusted with the former detective.

“It’s a severe breach of public trust,” Knezovich said.

Mastel and his attorney, however, said as long as he receives proper treatment, he wouldn’t cause problems.

“I have been with the Sheriff’s Office for 13 years. It had never happened before,” Mastel said. “I was at a point where I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know where to turn.”

Mastel argued he should have received written notice of the meeting at which he was fired, but he didn’t get written notice until after he was terminated. But the attorney representing the sheriff, Steve Kinn, said Mastel obviously knew the seriousness of what could happen at the meeting because he brought an attorney.

Had Mastel not been fired, he would have been eligible for retirement in September 2007.

Attorney Bill Edelblute denied his client was blaming the victim.

“He didn’t simply do this to a complete stranger at a park,” said Edelblute. “You can have levels of culpability.”

As a detective, Mastel was in charge of drafting departmental polices and preparing the office for accreditation. After he told Knezovich he was tired of his job in the spring, the sheriff offered him a sex crime detective position, which Mastel turned down.

Commission member Kurt Berklund asked Knezovich what would have been lost if Mastel had been placed on leave instead of being fired so soon after the incident.

“What would have been lost is the citizens of Spokane County would have paid for that administrative leave,” Knezovich said.

Knezovich said he has no idea where the department would place Mastel if the commission rules he should be rehired.

“He would be out in the public in a very stressful job,” Knezovich said.

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