Spokane County has ended its appeal of a December jury verdict that awarded a former sheriff’s deputy nearly $20 million after finding he’d been wrongly fired and defamed.
As part of an agreement filed in Spokane County Superior Court last month, Jeffrey Thurman and his wife received a full $20 million to cover the jury award and interest in the case. Spokane County has agreed to drop its appeal of the verdict, and the actual amount the county will have to pay will be around $2 million after insurance payments, said Steve Bartel, the county’s risk manager.
Thurman sued Spokane County and former Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich after he was fired in June 2019. Knezovich said an investigation found Thurman had used the N-word in a conversation with another deputy that was overheard by a third deputy, who is Black, and that he’d sexually harassed a female deputy. But a jury found that those allegations were not supported by the investigation, that Knezovich’s public comments defamed Thurman and that he had been discriminated against.
The county filed its notice of appeal in March. Bartel said he spoke with commissioners about the possibility of continued interest and payments to attorneys handling the appeal, which he estimated could have reached as high as $6 million in costs not covered by insurance.
“Even though it’s a tough pill to swallow, we figured both sides would be better off,” Bartel said.
The county is part of a collective called the Washington Counties Risk Pool, which insures its 25 members for trial losses and settlements, among other claims. Spokane County was covered up to $20 million, the exact amount of the settlement agreement. Bartel said the additional roughly $2 million for which the county will be liable can be covered by reserves in a county risk management account that is paid into by all government departments. It will not require additional taxes or action by county commissioners to move funds, he said.
Mary Schultz, the attorney representing Thurman and his wife, said the agreement ensured that the most possible money would go to the family.
“This settlement was a good decision for the county, and for Jeff and Kaycie Thurman,” Schultz said. “That’s because Jeff Thurman deserves his reputation back. That’s what the jury gave him, and that’s what the county has acknowledged by satisfying the judgment.”
Schultz added that Thurman “misses his work in law enforcement intensely.” Thurman worked in the sheriff’s office for 18 years – on the helicopter crew and as a police dog handler in Spokane County.