Arbitrator upholds 2018 firing of Spokane County Sheriff deputy

click to enlarge Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich

A third-party arbitrator upheld Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich's recent firing of a deputy last week, ending a series of employment disputes between the employee and the sheriff.

The former deputy, Travis Smith, was fired by Knezovich back in May 2018 following an internal investigation that found that he recorded telephone calls without all parties' consent — a violation of state law — while working on a complaint related to a domestic violence no-contact order, according to a release from the Sheriff's Office. The investigation also found that Smith was "dishonest in his responses" during the inquiry. (After he was fired Smith was also placed on local prosecutors' "Brady List," a tally of of local cops and forensic investigators whose credibility has been called into question.)

After Smith was fired, he requested that his union file a grievance against Sheriff Knezovich, alleging that the discipline exceeded standards for "just cause." A third-party arbitrator was subsequently selected by the involved parties and state Public Employment Relations Commission.

However, Martin Henner, the selected arbitrator, argued in a May 7 letter to the Sheriff's Office that Smith's firing was justified and, ultimately, rejected his grievance.

"Because of the seriousness of the grievant's [Smith]'s conduct in violating the Washington statute, and, more importantly, the finding that he was untruthful during the investigation of this violation, I have concluded that the sheriff's decision to terminate his employment was not unreasonable and satisfies the standard of just cause," Henner wrote in the letter.

This wasn't the first time that Knezovich tried give Smith the boot: Back in 2011, he was fired for "misconduct and several policy violations," including a "criminal violation" of malicious mischief in the third degree.

However, a different arbitrator brought in to address the 2011 termination ruled that he should be reinstated — despite "clear and convincing evidence" that he violated state law. Knezovich was then forced to reinstate him.

“The decision dumbfounded us,” Knezovich told the Spokesman-Review after the 2011 ruling. “I have a very fundamental belief that law enforcement shouldn’t be committing crimes and they definitely shouldn’t be committing crimes on duty.”

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About The Author

Josh Kelety

As a staff writer, Josh covers criminal justice issues and Spokane County government. Previously, he worked as a reporter for Seattle Weekly. Josh grew up in Port Townsend and graduated from the University of Washington. Message him through Signal @ (360) 301-3490.