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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy who said coworker made racist remark sues agency

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich holds a press conference in March 2021. Knezovich in a statement denied accusations that a former deputy had been retaliated against after reporting he heard a coworker use a racial epithet. That coworker was fired.   (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A former Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy who reported the alleged use of a racial epithet by a co-worker is suing the agency, claiming he was retaliated against after coming forward.

Andrew Richmond filed the lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office in U.S. District Court on Tuesday. It alleges Richmond, who is Black, overheard former Sgt. Jeffrey Thurman use a racial epithet in a phone conversation in December 2016 with another sheriff’s deputy, identified in court records as Tyler Kullman.

After reporting the comment, Richmond said he was subjected to discrimination, retaliation and ultimately forced out of his job with the sheriff’s office.

“The Black officer’s County employer failed to protect him against workplace discrimination and retaliation in violation of state and federal laws,” the lawsuit alleges.

In a statement, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he was “extremely disappointed” by the filing.

“The Sheriff’s Office denies that it took any retaliatory or discriminatory action toward Andrew Richmond. We thoroughly investigated Mr. Richmond’s allegations in 2019 and took care to observe all parties’ rights during the process,” Knezovich said in a statement.

Thurman has sued the sheriff’s office for defamation, denying the use of the word Richmond reported. He initially filed a $12.5 million tort claim against the county, which he said defamed him by releasing the allegation publicly following his firing nearly three years later. Thurman’s attorney, Mary Schultz, said evidence shows the county knows the allegation is false and continues to defame her client.

“I’m surprised that the media prints and reprints these false accusation with no proof of any of it, and no apparent desire to clean this up,” Schultz wrote in a text message between depositions in the defamation case. That case is set to go to trial in Spokane County Superior Court in November.

Richmond alleges he was ensured confidentiality during the ensuing Internal Affairs investigation into Thurman’s comment. Following Thurman’s firing in June 2019, however, Richmond’s name was released in an internal office memo informing the department of the firing decision. Thurman had been with the department since 2001.

“Since the termination of Thurman, Richmond has had a target on his back,” Heather Barden, the attorney representing Richmond, wrote in the complaint filed Tuesday.

Richmond alleges superiors began making false accusations against him and downplayed the significance of the remark he heard Thurman make. Kullman told Internal Affairs investigators that he couldn’t recall the specific remark identified by Richmond, but that Thurman had used the racial epithet in the past “both in anger and in jest,” according to the lawsuit.

Knezovich transferred Richmond to the downtown Sheriff’s Office, according to the lawsuit. Richmond left the office in July 2019, just a month after Thurman was fired. He sought employment with the Spokane Police Department, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit does not list sought damages. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Mendoza, but as of Thursday no hearings had been scheduled.