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Franklin County was forced to rehire a deputy after 3 years. Now, he’s suing for retaliation

A Franklin County sheriff’s employee is suing the county claiming his new job in the jail’s master control room monitoring cells and door access is part of an attempt to force him to quit.
A Franklin County sheriff’s employee is suing the county claiming his new job in the jail’s master control room monitoring cells and door access is part of an attempt to force him to quit. Tri-City Herald

A Franklin County sheriff’s deputy is suing the county and his boss, Sheriff Jim Raymond, for discrimination, retaliation and civil rights violations.

Deputy George Rapp, currently assigned to the master control room at the Franklin County jail, alleges he’s been mistreated since an arbitrator ordered the county to reinstate him after he was fired three years ago.

The case was originally filed in Walla Walla Superior Court in April. It was transferred to federal court in June because of the civil rights claims. Now, the county is asking a judge to throw out the case.

In his complaint, Rapp paints a picture of a lonely, isolated workplace he claims is meant to drive him to quit.

The county counters that Rapp was fired for legitimate reasons and that he brought his troubles on himself. It did not dispute his right to appeal his termination.

Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant authorized the county’s Seattle attorney to explain what led to the lawsuit, including the misconduct allegations that preceded Rapp’s termination.

Public agencies rarely comment on lawsuits against them. Andrew Cooley, who is representing Franklin County, said it was important to tell the county’s side.

“There is an audience for this,” said Cooley, of Keating, Bucklin & McCormack. “That includes county officials and county residents. They would like to understand from the county’s perspective what the case is about. It doesn’t serve that interest to say, ‘We don’t comment on pending litigation.’”

Rapp is represented by Andrea Clare and George Telquist of Richland-based Telquist McMillin Clare.

The firm declined to discuss the case.

Sheriff’s deputy for 7 years

Rapp joined the agency in 2009 and was terminated in May 2016.

His collective bargaining agreement gave Rapp the right to appeal to an arbitrator.

In September 2016, following a series of hearings, the arbitrator ordered Franklin County to reinstate Rapp and give him back pay, saying the decision to terminate didn’t meet the bargaining agreement’s standards for “just cause.”

The county appealed to Superior Court and did not reinstate Rapp until January 2019, more than two years later.

Rapp, formerly a patrol deputy, was assigned to a new job in the jail’s master control room, which monitors cells and controls door access.

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A Franklin County sheriff’s deputy sued the county claiming retaliation after the sheriff was forced to reinstate him after he was fired three years ago. File Tri-City Herald

Rapp’s lawsuit alleges he’s been mistreated and humiliated ever since. He said the sheriff refused to commission him, restricted his access to the sheriff’s offices, including break room.

Rapp said he hasn’t been given the resources he needs to complete assigned tasks. For instance, when he returned to work, the human resources department wasn’t expecting him and told him to return later.

He asked the HR department to remove write-ups from his file, noting that the union agreements allow members to make those requests after 18 months. Rapp hadn’t worked for nearly three years so no write-ups would be less than 18 months old.

Rapp said he was told to submit the request in writing through his county email but he hadn’t been assigned a county email account.

In another instance, Rapp acknowledged he briefly left the control room area to get a Coke that a Pasco police officer had left him in the jail’s intake area.

Rapp said he was gone fewer than five minutes. He was summoned to a supervisor’s office and reprimanded for being in an area of the jail where he wasn’t allowed.

In his suit, Rapp said his jail position is not consistent with the patrol deputy job from which he was wrongfully terminated.

County denies retaliation

The county filed its response in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington this week. It denies all specific allegations of mistreatment.

According to Cooley, the county’s attorney, the difficulties began in January 2016 when Rapp received a “mildly” critical performance evaluation from a sergeant.

Rapp told his sergeant he was upset by the negative evaluation and wasn’t fit for duty. Witnesses described Rapp as hyperventilating and enraged.

The undersheriff sent Rapp home and placed him on administrative leave.

Rapp’s service revolver was secured at the jail. And a sergeant was assigned to drive Rapp home in Rapp’s county-issued SUV.

The sergeant was to secure the vehicle and retrieve Rapp’s county-issued M16 rifle.

Rapp told the sergeant the rifle was at his home, locked in a gun safe. But it wasn’t there.

The rifle had been collected previously by the sheriff’s department for unrelated reasons. Although the rifle was secure, the sheriff was troubled that Rapp didn’t immediately remember where it was, Cooley said.

The sergeant who drove Rapp home also discovered that Rapp’s patrol vehicle lacked gear that officers are supposed to carry in their patrol cars — a first aid kit, flares, traffic cones, bottled water, various law enforcement forms and paperwork or the stuffed animals that officers give to upset children.

“Deputy Rapp had nothing in the back of his patrol car,” Cooley said.

Internal investigation

Cooley said Raymond asked the Kennewick Police Department to conduct an internal investigation. Cooley said the outside report found other examples of misconduct.

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A Franklin County sheriff’s deputy sued the county claiming retaliation after the sheriff was forced to reinstate him after he was fired three years ago. File Tri-City Herald

Cooley cited an apparently unauthorized investigation into a January 2016 burglary as an example.

The incident occurred shortly before Rapp’s initial performance evaluation.

According to Cooley, the sheriff’s office identified a suspect and the case was turned over to a detective to investigate.

But Rapp continued to follow up on the case. He went to the suspect’s home and asked if he could go inside.

The suspect let him in and he “surreptitiously” videotaped the inside the house without permission.

The 1998 “Ferrier” ruling by the Washington Supreme Court ruling requires law enforcement to notify residents that they have the right to refuse entry to law enforcement officers, to limit where officers can go and that officers must leave if requested.

Officers carry a form to read and that residents must sign.

Rapp did not have the form and did not tell the suspect that he could refuse to allow him in, said Cooley.

Cooley said the sheriff believes the jail is the best assignment for Rapp.

“He is in the control booth dealing with security issues. He ensures the right people come in and out,” he said.

Sheriff Raymond referred questions to Cooley.

If the case is not dismissed, it will go to trial no earlier than 2020.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.
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