Fired deputy files tort claim against county

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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Updated: January 12, 2012, 7:30 PM

 
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Ed Owens' claim against Clark County

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A former Clark County sheriff’s deputy fired over violations relating to the accidental fatal shooting of his son has filed a tort claim against the county, alleging his termination was in retaliation for questioning the viability of department-issued gun safes.

Ed Owens is seeking reinstatement and compensation for monetary and emotional damages, his Vancouver attorney, Greg Ferguson, said Thursday.

Owens, a seven-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, was fired Nov. 29 following a lengthy investigation into his 3-year-old son’s death and his ensuing conduct. Sheriff’s internal affairs investigators found that he violated six department policies, most of them relating to his behavior with his 11-year-old stepdaughter.

Owens’ son, Ryan, died Sept. 14, 2010, after he got into his father’s malfunctioning gun safe, picked up a Kel-Tec pistol and accidentally shot and killed himself. Investigators said Owens tried to blame his son’s death on the stepdaughter and coerced a false confession from her, according to police reports.

Owens was not prosecuted for any wrongdoing.

The focus of Owens’ claim is the malfunctioning gun safe. Owens maintains in the claim that he did not know the safe was defective — though the sheriff’s office said he did know and should have had it fixed. Owens further claims the sheriff refused to have the safes tested.

“Claimant pleaded with (Sheriff Garry) Lucas to pull the safes from employee’s homes and thoroughly test them. Lucas refused,” the claim said. “Claimant then lodged complaints up through his chain of command detailing his safety concerns, yet nothing was done.”

The claim alleges the county’s gun safes are similar to those that were recalled in 2004 for being defective. Sheriff’s Chief Criminal Deputy Mike Evans said in an earlier interview that none of the department’s safes were among those that were recalled; Evans also said that no other employees reported having problems with their safes.

According to the claim, the sheriff’s office began investigating Owens and his wife in “retaliation” for his pleas to have the gun safes tested.

“The IA and criminal investigations were initiated as a retaliatory measure in response to claimant’s continued complaints concerning dangers presented by the Stack-On gun safes, and were carried out as a means to intimidate and discredit him,” the claim said.

The claim includes a references to a YouTube video showing how easy it is to break into a safe of its type.

Ferguson described his client as a staunch opponent of the faulty gun safes. Owens has testified before the Legislature in favor of a bill that would establish minimum safety standards for gun safes and gun safety devices.

“My client’s termination sent a strong message to employees to keep their mouths shut about these gun safes,” Ferguson said in a press release.

When reached by telephone Thursday, Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Bronson Potter said he had not yet seen the tort claim and could not comment.

By state law, the county has 60 days to respond to a tort claim. If the grievance is not settled within that time, a plaintiff can file a lawsuit with the court.

Ferguson said Owens has also filed claims with the state’s Department of Labor & Industries, alleging unsafe equipment and retaliation, and is waiting on the outcome of those cases before filing suit.