A former Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy who was investigated at least twice for dishonesty remains an accredited law enforcement agent in the state, officials said this week.
Jeremy B. Jeske, 44, resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in October after 14 years with the agency, most recently as a training coordinator, after he acknowledged signing documents claiming to have performed about 70 vehicle safety inspections even though he had not done so.
Spokane County Sheriff’s internal investigators were tipped in August to a probe by the Arizona Inspector General’s office into multiple vehicle inspections that were signed by Jeske and traced back to a wholesale auto importer in Spokane called Bartlett Motors, according to records.
Jeske signed Arizona Department of Transportation forms indicating he had performed physical inspections of vehicles brought into America from Canada, which was a lie. Jeske also hid from his superiors contact he had with Arizona investigators who were looking into the legitimacy of the Bartlett dealership.
An investigator in Arizona called Jeske in June, asking whether he physically inspected the cars he signed paperwork for, which is required by law. Jeske told the Arizona investigator he had inspected the cars, but later changed his story when talking to Sgt. Tim Hines, who led Spokane County’s internal investigation.
“OK, but when he asked you if you actually saw those vehicles, you said yes. That wasn’t true?” Hines asked Jeske in an interview in September, according to transcripts of the conversation.
“No. If that’s what I said, it wasn’t true. It was a misunderstanding,” Jeske said.
Jeske told Hines he connected with Doug Bartlett, the owner of the company, through a cousin and signed roughly 70 inspections this summer using a form from the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Some of those vehicles Jeske claimed to have inspected were traced to auctions in Western Washington, and investigators suspect at least two of the vehicles – a 2010 pickup truck and a 2011 pickup truck – had their odometers rolled back, according to the Sheriff’s Office records.
Bartlett said the odometer allegations from a member of the National Insurance Crime Bureau were false.
“There was one truck we had to sell with miles unknown,” Bartlett said.
A Crime Bureau investigator looked at the Carfax reports for 28 vehicles supposedly inspected by Jeske and sold by Bartlett. Fourteen of them had “questionable odometer readings,” according to internal Sherrif’s Office records.
“When you do 1,500 cars a month, you’re going to make a mistake or two,” Bartlett said.
When asked why he didn’t report the phone call from Arizona to his superiors, Jeske said, “Cuz I didn’t,” according to a transcript of the conversation with Hines.
Bartlett said he was surprised when Jeske was not up front with investigators about his involvement in the business.
In a separate incident, Jeske last year won a not guilty verdict in court on charges of insurance fraud. Private insurance company investigators alleged that after snow damaged a trailer Jeske was storing in Priest Lake in April 2014, he bought coverage and tried to fraudulently file a claim.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said the vehicle inspection matter was investigated according to the office’s policies and a “standard” agreement was signed, accepting Jeske’s resignation two weeks after he was questioned by the Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office also alleged Jeske violated an office policy prohibiting the use of his commission for personal gain. Jeske told investigators he did not receive money from Bartlett Motors for his inspections, but wanted to get his foot in the door for a job after he retired from law enforcement.
“Deputy Jeske resigned in lieu of termination, for lying, which is one of the things you should be decertified for,” Knezovich said.
Knezovich said the investigation was forwarded to federal and state authorities to consider criminal charges.
“No one wanted it,” Knezovich said.
The investigation has not affected Jeske’s status as a law enforcement officer.
Jeske remains an accredited law enforcement agent in good standing with the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, though he is not currently employed in law enforcement, said Tisha Jones, peace officer certification manager for the commission.
The resignation agreement, which also was signed by Deputy Sheriff’s Association President Kevin Richey, continues to cover Jeske’s health care costs through the end of 2015. Knezovich said the agreement would save the county time and money on legal costs.
Richey, who also serves as mayor of Airway Heights, said the agreement illustrated the Deputy Sheriff’s Association’s willingness to work with Knezovich on future employment issues.
“Under the circumstances, I think he was treated fairly,” Richey said of Jeske. “He made his own decision, ultimately” to resign, Richey added.
The Criminal Justice Training Commission requires agencies to notify them of an officer’s separation within 15 days. Jones confirmed Spokane County sent in the form reporting Jeske’s resignation in lieu of termination, but the commission was not provided additional documents that would enable an investigation into “disqualifying misconduct.”
Knezovich said his office “filled out the form they provide us.”
“It’s black and white, you’re either fired for the issue, or you resigned because of it, then you fall through the cracks,” Knezovich said, adding that he’s lobbied multiple times at the state level for greater investigative power by the Training Commission.
The completed document is considered a personnel file under state public records laws and not subject to release, Jones said.
The form, revised this August, does have an additional check box indicating whether the agency is “aware of any conduct that may fall under the meaning of ‘disqualifying misconduct,’ ” which includes an officer resigning in lieu of termination, and a request for additional documents. Jones said no documents were received from Spokane County.
A Department of Licensing spokesman said in an email that Bartlett Motors’ business license expired in March. His dealership license is in good standing through next year.
Bartlett’s wife, Kim, said her husband was in the hospital, and that was the reason no response was given to a request for comment earlier this week. Bartlett called from his cellphone in response to the story in Thursday’s newspaper.
The Arizona investigator forwarded his findings about Bartlett’s dealership to prosecutors, who declined to take action on the allegations, according to internal Sheriff’s Office investigative records.
Bartlett and his business also face no criminal charges in Washington state for their conduct, and the Department of Licensing reported no complaints about the business.
A Department of Licensing official told internal investigator Hines that some vehicle importers seek inspections outside of Washington state to avoid federal income tax and the inspection process, which is more onerous than in other states. In Arizona, there is no fee for the level of inspection that Jeske claimed he performed.
Seeking inspection and titling in another state is not technically illegal, according to a licensing department spokesman.
The inspections are performed in Washington by Washington State Patrol officials to ensure safety and fight auto theft. Washington state law requires a physical inspection, as in Arizona.
Efforts to reach Jeske were unsuccessful.
Knezovich said he had received multiple public records requests regarding Jeske’s law enforcement status, and accused some in the Spokane Police Guild of attempting to “use the media” to dig up dirt on his office because of his agency’s investigation of rape allegations at a party attended by police officers.
“That’s just ridiculous and wrong,” Knezovich said.
A request for comment from acting Spokane Police Guild President Sgt. John Griffin was not returned.
The investigative records into Jeske’s conduct were provided to the Spokesman-Review a few days after a request was made. The Sheriff’s Office did not notify the media or the public when Jeske resigned.
“There are some things that rise to that level,” Knezovich said. “This is simply a personnel issue.”
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