EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office has fired two deputies after an internal investigation found they searched a suspect's car without a warrant and then tried to cover it up.
But the sheriff's opponent in Tuesday's election says the firings were politically motivated.
Sheriff Ty Trenary accused the pair of dishonesty and other policy violations, The Daily Herald reported .
The deputies claimed to be taking inventory of a vehicle that had been seized when its owner was arrested on a drug charge two years ago, the investigation found. In reality they were conducting a criminal investigation, it said, and when they later applied for a search warrant, they failed to tell the judge they had already looked in the trunk and found a shotgun.
"After a thorough and impartial investigation we found that these two deputy sheriffs had not only conducted an illegal search, but did it in a way that made it clear that they knew what they were doing was wrong," Trenary wrote in a decision letter Friday.
Trenary's opponent in Tuesday's election, sheriff's Sgt. Adam Fortney, claimed in a Facebook post the firings were politically motivated. The fired deputies, Matt Boice and Evan Twedt, have supported Fortney's campaign and worked with Fortney on night patrol.
Further, Boice has been serving as president of the deputies' union, the Deputy Sheriff's Association, which endorsed Fortney. Fortney was the immediate past president of the union.
Boice, a 12-year veteran of the sheriff's office, was named the 2016 Patrol Deputy of the Year. Twedt has been with the sheriff's office for four years and has had "a number of positive performance evaluations and commendations," according to the sheriff's discipline letter.
Boice said he would work with the union to contest his firing.
"I was terminated because I supported Adam," he said.
Memos outlining the allegations that led to the deputies' terminations say the internal investigation started in June, when a lieutenant learned of a 2017 traffic stop that involved a possible warrantless search.
During the traffic stop, Boice reportedly noticed a pipe and placed the driver under arrest for having drug paraphernalia. Twedt arrived on scene about that time.
The deputies found what they believed to be methamphetamine in the driver's pocket and a baggie of .22-caliber ammunition in his car door. The man declined to let them search the vehicle, but the investigation found that they did so anyway.
Boice and Twedt later said they were performing an inventory search, in which deputies make an account of items in a vehicle before it's towed, for liability reasons in case the owner claims to have lost their belongings.
The sheriff's memo, however, says the deputies called for an "evidence tow" — a procedure for securing a vehicle to be searched later at a sheriff's office impound lot. In such cases, no inventory is done before serving a search warrant.
Furthermore, since 2016, sheriff's office policy explicitly prohibits deputies from opening a vehicle's trunk during an inventory search.
Their reports don't reflect that they were performing an inventory search, the investigation found, and they failed to acknowledge that they had found the shotgun in the trunk when they eventually applied for a search warrant.
"Your failure to mention anything here that would even potentially provide a judge or a superior officer some clue that you had already done the search is both telling and damning," Trenary wrote.
Fortney called for an independent investigation into the firings by the county's executive and prosecutor. Trenary said he would welcome one.
In his termination letters to the deputies, the sheriff said their actions struck "at the heart of the trust a citizenry puts in its law enforcement officers."
Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com