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Sunday, August 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Former Tonasket officer says mayor asked him to change name because ‘Jose’ sounded too Hispanic

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 10, 2019, 9:25 p.m.

October 2018 photo of shows Tonasket Police Chief Darin Odegaard (right) with Police Officer Jose Perez (left) inside the Tonasket City Hall with Mayor Dennis Brown (center) looking on. (Tonasket Police Department)
October 2018 photo of shows Tonasket Police Chief Darin Odegaard (right) with Police Officer Jose Perez (left) inside the Tonasket City Hall with Mayor Dennis Brown (center) looking on. (Tonasket Police Department)

The city of Tonasket has disbanded its police department and a City Council member has called for the mayor to step down after an officer came forward with allegations that the mayor instructed him start using the name “Joseph” because “Jose” sounded “too Hispanic.”

The issue blew up in this town of about 1,100 people on Tuesday night at the Tonasket City Council meeting, according to video published by the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle. In the video, former Officer Jose Perez explained how Mayor Dennis Brown asked him to stop using the name Jose when he had interactions with city residents.

During the meeting, someone off-camera asks Brown whether he asked Perez to use “Joseph” as his first name. “It’s just translation,” Brown said, which brought a prompt rebuke from members of the gallery. “He goes by both.”

Perez then stood and told the council about his interactions with Brown.

“Mayor walked into the office, he told me, ‘I changed your name from Jose to Joseph because Jose sounds too stereotypical. It sounds too Hispanic.’ ” Perez said on the video. “He asked me to introduce myself to the public as Joseph.”

Reached by phone on Thursday, Brown denied ever telling Perez to use the name “Joseph.”

“That’s false. There is a whole different version,” Brown said. “I asked him what he would prefer to be called. He didn’t say anything at the time.”

Perez described an incident after Brown joined him on patrol. At one point during the ride-along, they approached a citizen.

“I introduced myself. I said, ‘My name is Officer Jose Perez.’ The mayor looks at me. He says, ‘What did we talk about.’ I went back and said, ‘My name is Joseph Perez,’ ” he said.

Councilwoman Christa Levine then said that, as a result of the allegations, she tried to reduce Brown’s monthly salary from $650 a month to $50 but was told by the city attorney that she could not.

“There’s not a whole lot we can do when we lose confidence in our mayor,” Levine said on the video. “All we can do is keep on doing our job to the best of our abilities.”

Councilwoman Jill Ritter also ripped Brown, saying he has not handled issues with the police department in a professional manner.

“Your answers to questions from this council and the public have not been consistent or truthful at times,” Ritter said on the video. “I will not allow your lies to drag me and this council down and reflect poorly on all of us.”

Ritter said it was time for Brown to step down.

“Upon learning tonight of the incident asking Jose Perez to refer to himself as Joseph is appalling,” she said. “It is not fair to ask the taxpayers of this community to keep paying the costs of liability for your preventable mistakes.”

Efforts to reach Perez and Ritter were not successful Thursday.

Brown last week unilaterally decided to disband the Tonasket Police Department, which had consisted of two officers, including Perez, and a police chief.

Asked if he talked with City Council members before making the decision to disband the police department, Brown refused to comment. He said the plan is to contract police services with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.

However, Undersheriff Aaron Culp said that agreement has not yet been finalized. Culp said the county has four deputies and a sergeant patrolling at any given time and they patrol a county that covers about 5,300 square miles.

Culp said the sheriff’s office learned Sunday that the police department had been disbanded.

“They have contacted us seeking an agreement” for law enforcement services, he said, “but an agreement has not been reached.”

Brown said he wants a yearlong contract so “I can put my police department back together. The county says they won’t go for a year,” he said. “So, we’ll have to negotiate that out.”

While deputies will respond to serious felony crimes, Culp said any calls for misdemeanor crimes or civil matters will still be handled by the city.

“It seems like an unfortunate event all the way around,” Culp said. “The citizens are in a state of somewhere between panic and concern that a service they are used to having is seemingly not covered by the city. We understand their concerns and are working with the city administration to come up with a solution.”

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