Ex-deputy whose son accidentally shot himself sues county

He says he was fired for questioning safety of gun safes

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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A former Clark County sheriff's deputy on Thursday filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the county. Ed Owens alleges he was fired for questioning the safety of gun safes issued by the sheriff's office after his 3-year-old son got into a safe and accidentally shot himself.

Owens was fired Nov. 29, 2011, over violations relating to the accidental fatal shooting of his 3-year-old son, Ryan.

Owens is now seeking reinstatement to the sheriff's office and monetary compensation for lost wages and damage to his reputation, his attorney Gregory Ferguson said in a press conference Thursday.

"This case is about a conspiracy," Ferguson told reporters. Owens was vilified by the sheriff's internal affairs investigation and branded a liar, he said.

Owens' son accidentally shot and killed himself in the family's Battle Ground home on Sept. 14, 2010.

Investigators said Owens tried to blame his son's death on his stepdaughter and coerced a false confession out of her, police reports said.

Owens said coercion claims are "a blatant lie."

Instead, Owens asserts he was fired for filing complaints about the gun safes.

Owens was told to let it go. When he kept on asking questions, the internal affairs investigation was launched, Ferguson alleged.

Owens claims he didn't know the safe was defective at the time of his son's death. He did say he jiggled the handle to make sure it was locked, just like he would with his front door handle before leaving the home. The sheriff's office said he knew the safe didn't work and should have reported the problem.

"One of my mistakes is I trusted my employer supplied me with a reliable piece of equipment," he said.

Once he heard the safe was defective, Owens started looking into the problem. He claims Sheriff Garry Lucas refused to have the safes tested and backed out of a promise made to Deputy Sheriff Guild leaders to have the safes tested.

A similar safe made by the same manufacturer, Stack-On, was recalled in 2004.

Sheriff's Chief Criminal Deputy Mike Evans in an earlier interview said not one of the department's safes was a part of the recall and no other employees reported problems with their safes.

Owens and Ferguson hired a lock expert, Marc Weber Tobias, who demonstrated to reporters how a safe similar to the one issued to Owens could be unlocked by dropping it a few inches.

The safe opened several times after being dropped a few inches to the ground.

"This safe can be bounced open," he said, blaming the problem on a faulty lock system.

Ferguson claims he and Owens uncovered public records that show the sheriff's office heard reports of malfunctioning safes after Ryan's death and had the units destroyed.

Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Bronson Potter said Thursday afternoon he heard the lawsuit was filed but hadn't seen the complaint yet.

Sheriff Lucas and Chief Deputy Evans also were named as defendants in the suit.

The sheriff's office is not making any comments, citing the pending litigation, spokesman Sgt. Fred Neiman said.