WALLA WALLA — An independent arbitrator, citing many “contradictions” from witnesses, has sided with Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner in a grievance against him filed by one of his deputies, Sgt. Bill White.
Kathryn Whalen’s written findings, released last week, cap a grievance process that followed Walla Walla County Commissioned Deputies Association claims that Turner violated collective bargaining agreements when he disciplined White after an investigation that began in late May 2012.
The deputies association argued during the hearing that the investigation into allegations against White was flawed and motivated by bias from Turner. White had run against Turner in the 2010 sheriff’s election.
The most serious charge against White was that he ignored an order to seize a bag of money during a May 4, 2012, homicide investigation at The New York Store. Turner claims he gave White a direct order to seize the bag early on the morning of the killing. The association argued Turner did not give that order.
Following an investigation conducted by Benton County Sheriff’s detectives, Turner imposed a 120 hour suspension without pay along with a demotion in rank for White. Turner suspended the demotion and half of the 120-hour suspension on the condition that White complete a performance plan.
Whalen wrote in her award letter that she had to choose which side to believe.
“There are contradictions in this factual record — these contradictions are widespread and not limited to a few witnesses,” her letters stated. “As both parties acknowledge in their arguments, credibility determinations must be made in this case. Ultimate factual findings on wrongdoing depend on whose account is believed.”
Whalen stated that she found Turner’s account most plausible, and that she felt it was corroborated by Undersheriff Edward Freyer and Sgt. Jim Romine. Whalen also wrote she felt testimony from other witnesses was vague or ambiguous.
“The lynchpin to most Association’s Statements is conditioned upon my acceptance of White’s account; and correspondingly, would require that I find that Turner and Freyer were untruthful about the early morning conversation,” Whalen wrote. “Despite the Association’s detailed and vigorous arguments, I am not persuaded that Turner and Freyer fabricated the conversation at the crime scene and that Turner with the support of others continued down a road of manipulation and deceit.”
“I’ve done this a long time,” said Jamie Goldberg, attorney for the Association. “Decisions go both ways. This one was surprising.”
Goldberg added he felt the Association had effectively countered the testimony given by Turner, Freyer and Romine.
“I thought we had shown ample proof to question those three versions,” he said.
Goldberg, said there isn’t an avenue to appeal the decision.
Turner said Wednesday that he would not comment on the outcome of the hearing.
“As always, we don’t comment on internal personnel matters,” he said.
Despite finding in Turner’s favor, Whalen did note that the hearing raised other concerns for the Sheriff’s Office.
“The record indicates there are ‘camps’ and loyalties which coincide with the lines drawn in the November Election for Sheriff: and which also are influenced by Turner’s changes in organization and leadership since he took office,” she stated.
Asked about that concern in a brief phone interview, Turner responded that the Sheriff’s Office “is a team and we have important work to do. There is no room for factions.”
Both Goldberg and Turner said Whalen’s decision will not influence ongoing labor negotiations between the Association and the County, which have been certified for arbitration.
Luke Hegdal can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8326.