WALLA WALLA - Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner may have violated labor law by talking with members of the Walla Walla County Deputy Sheriff's Association about what happened during association meetings according to Jamie Goldberg, the association's attorney.
Last week a letter sent to Turner and the Walla Walla County Commissioners surfaced, calling for Sgt. Bill White to be reinstated to active duty. The letter, approved by the association, condemned the sheriff's move to place White on paid administrative leave.
White was placed on leave in late May, and the investigation is being conducted by the Benton County Sheriff's Office.
The Association claims Turner did not notify White of the specific allegations against him when he was placed on leave. Turner stated last week that he notified White when he was placed on leave, May 21.
"I wasn't really advised," White said in an interview this morning, adding the notice he received was extremely vague "like chapter titles from a book."
It wasn't until investigators from Benton County began interviewing him, nearly a month later, that White began to piece together what the charges could be referring to.
"The worst part of it is the guys sitting there working short," White said. "It's never safe."
The association letter addresses the alleged lack of communication and other complaints.
In an interview with a reporter for a local radio station last week, Turner said he spoke with Association President Travis Goodwin and the Secretary Ian Edwards after he received the letter. According to Turner, Goodwin said the association did not vote to approve sending the letter.
Goodwin resigned as association president and refused to comment on Turner's claim.
According to Goldberg, however, Turner may have violated state labor law by speaking with Goodwin without other Association members present.
"The sheriff contacting Association members about what occurred in Association meetings is a violation of state labor law," Goldberg wrote in an email this morning. "It is called 'surveillance' in labor law terms. It is not a 'criminal' offense, but it is deemed illegal as an Unfair Labor Practice."
It could be the second unfair labor practices complaint Turner faces.
The Association filed a complaint in May that alleges the Sheriff's Office administration unilaterally tried to change how vacation time is accrued. The Public Employment Relations Commission found there was sufficient information to warrant a review of the case, which is still currently active.
Deputy Brad Ansorge, the association's acting president after Goodwin's resignation, responded Tuesday to Turner's claim that the association vote was somehow different than the official letter described.
"The vote was unanimously in favor of sending the letter." Ansorge wrote in a letter sent to Goldberg Tuesday. "When asked if there was any opposition, nobody indicated there was any. After the vote, it was agreed I would draft a letter and forward it to you, which I did."
Ansorge's letter also claims Goodwin and Edwards denied telling Turner anything about the association vote, except they had not seen the letter sent to Goldberg.
According to Turner, there has been no violation, and the investigation into Sgt. Bill White is still under way.
"All these things stem from an active internal investigation that I'm not free to talk about," Turner said this morning.
Luke Hegdal can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8326.
Below is a letter sent by Walla Walla County Deputy Sheriffs Association President Brad Ansorge to Jaime Goldberg, the association's attorney. The letter, which also was sent to U-B reporter Luke Hegdal, is presented unedited in its entirety. The "Tom" referenced at the beginning of the letter is sheriff's Sgt. Tom Cooper.
Tom asked me to send you an email reference Sheriff Turner's attempt to mitigate the political embarrassment resulting from the WWCDSA letter condemning the Bill White situation. Here it is.
I've read Tom's response to Turner's assertion that the action leading to that letter being sent was somehow invalid and not sanctioned by the association. Tom's rendition of the events regarding the matter are exactly accurate.
Tom made the motion to send the letter condemning the pending administrative action against White. After I seconded the motion there was a brief discussion and a vote. The vote was unanimously in favor of sending the letter. When asked if there was any opposition nobody indicated there was any. After the vote it was agreed I would draft a letter and forward it to you which I did.
I talked to WWCDSA secretary Ian Edwards and Travis Goodwin who recently resigned as WWCDSA president. Edwards and Goodwin deny telling Turner the decision to send the letter wasn't approved by a vote of the members present. Both Edwards and Goodwin said Turner questioned them about the letter when he received it. Edwards and Goodwin told me they only told Turner they hadn't read the letter which I wrote and forwarded to you. Turner is apparently using the statements to misrepresent the letter as some unilateral action by one or two rogue association members.
I told Goodwin about Turner's intention to spin his statement to serve his political agenda. Goodwin refused to help set the record straight saying he'd already refused to comment when approached by a Union Bulletin reporter. Goodwin acknowledged feeling pressure from Turner as being a factor motivating his decision. I believe pressure from Turner also caused Goodwin's decision to step down as WWCDSA president
I contacted Edwards yesterday and obtained his handwritten minutes from the association meeting in question. I didn't tell Edwards why I wanted the minutes since he is known to be more susceptible to Turner's pressure than most. Edwards was already aware Turner was attempting to misrepresent the letter issue from a previous discussion we had.
I reviewed the minutes which clearly discredit Turner's allegation that the letter wasn't sanctioned by the association. Edwards called me a couple hours after I had the meeting minutes.Edwards seemed nervous and expressed concern about public consumption of the information. Edwards will likely deny fearing reprisal from Turner due the minutes he authored but I believe he is terrified.
Edwards and Goodwin like most association members are good men. Unfortunately the relentless pressure applied by Sheriff Turner has shaken the resolve of many. The numerous firings and administrative actions by Sheriff Tuner continue to take a heavy toll on the resolve of WWSO employees. I confident Turner will target me for carrying out the association business and not allowing his revisionist history to prevail without opposition.