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jbDeputy whose reinstatement in 2012 ‘dumbfounded’ Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich officially terminated last week following state arbitrator’s finding

May 14, 2019

A decision to fire a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy with a history of bad behavior was upheld last week by a state arbitrator, the sheriff’s office said.

Deputy Travis Smith originally was terminated on May 7, 2018 by Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich following an internal affairs investigation that determined Smith recorded telephone calls in violation of Washington’s two-party consent law during a domestic violence investigation, the sheriff’s office wrote in a news release.

Smith requested the Spokane County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the union representing sheriff’s deputies, file a grievance on his behalf against Knezovich, saying the discipline violated the collective bargaining agreement.

Last week, state arbitrator Martin Henner upheld Smith’s termination, writing that Smith violated a Washington statute and was “untruthful during the investigation into his actions,” the release says.

“I have concluded that the Sheriff’s decision to terminate his employment was not unreasonable and satisfies the standard of just cause,” Henner wrote, according to the sheriff’s office.

Smith, who was hired as a deputy in August 2007, was fired in January 2011 in what Knezovich called a “pattern” of bad behavior, including stabbing a knife into the seat of a vehicle he was searching in 2010, then issuing the vehicle’s owner nine infractions because he felt one of the owner’s comments against him was a “personal attack on his ethics and integrity.”

At the time, Smith was the subject of three internal affairs investigations in less than a year.

In a rare move, arbitrator Shelly Shapiro reversed Knezovich’s decision, saying that while Smith broke the law, there were mitigating factors undermining his termination. She reasoned the criminal acts “did not put anyone’s physical safety at risk” and that the “acts were done out of the public view.”

“Discharge is the most extreme of the workplace penalties since the employee’s job, seniority and other contractual benefits, as well as reputation, are at risk,” Shapiro wrote, according to a Spokesman-Review story. “For a law enforcement officer, termination can end a career.”

Knezovich at the time said he was shocked.

“The decision dumbfounded us,” he said. “I have a very fundamental belief that law enforcement shouldn’t be committing crimes and they definitely shouldn’t be committing crimes on duty.”

Shapiro also considered Smith’s youth, his short law enforcement career and his pursuit of an advanced degree.

Rather than termination, Smith was instead given a lengthy suspension without pay. He was reinstated in November 2011.