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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Former sheriff’s sergeant accused of racist remark brings defamation claim to court

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 5, 2019

Jeff Thurman of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office plays with his police dog, Laslo, on Feb. 24, 2017. He was fired on June 13, 2019, after an internal investigation found he allegedly spoke of killing black people and sexually harassed a female deputy on his helicopter crew. He denies the allegations and is suing Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich for defamation. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Jeff Thurman of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office plays with his police dog, Laslo, on Feb. 24, 2017. He was fired on June 13, 2019, after an internal investigation found he allegedly spoke of killing black people and sexually harassed a female deputy on his helicopter crew. He denies the allegations and is suing Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich for defamation. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A defamation claim brought by a former Spokane County sheriff’s sergeant is now in court.

Jeff Thurman, who was fired from the sheriff’s office in June, denies allegations that he spoke of killing black people and claims Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich publicly misrepresented the findings of an internal investigation.

Thurman – an 18-year veteran of the sheriff’s office who served on the helicopter crew and worked as a police dog handler in Spokane Valley – was accused of starting a phone conversation with another deputy by asking: “You ready to kill some (N-word)s tonight or what?”

Thurman’s attorney, Mary Schultz, previously filed a tort claim seeking $12.5 million in damages. Sixty days passed without a response from the county, enabling her to file a lawsuit this week in Spokane County Superior Court. She said Thurman also is pursuing recourse through the county’s Civil Service Commission, with a hearing scheduled in July 2020.

Thurman also denies that he sexually harassed a female deputy, as Knezovich asserted during a news conference hours after his termination on June 13. According to the lawsuit, the woman denied that Thurman suggested he would impregnate her.

Knezovich has said Thurman’s tort claim was “not an accurate depiction” of the final report that summarizes the internal affairs investigation. But the sheriff’s office has not yet disclosed that report in response to public records requests, and Schultz has declined to share a copy.

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