Official: Jefferson County readying for mediation over allegations against sheriff

Sheriff Dave Stanko

Sheriff Dave Stanko

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County is preparing to enter into mediation over allegations of misconduct against Sheriff Dave Stanko, Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley said Monday.

This is in response to a letter former Jefferson County Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Stringer sent to the county last month asking for a $250,000 settlement or to enter into mediation over his complaints that Stanko had harassed and ridiculed him, attempted to demote him without cause and forced him to retire early.

In the letter, Stringer wrote that he would be willing to accept a $250,000 settlement or to enter mediation, as long as the county paid for that mediation.

Morley said mediation had not yet been scheduled.

In February, Stanko sent an email to county staff informing them he had been exonerated of all the allegations raised against him.

“The investigation was handled by an independent investigator and all of the allegations were unfounded,” Stanko said Monday. “I wish Mr. Stringer well in his retirement.”

Stanko said the claim is still being reviewed by the county’s risk pool, a process he said he is not involved in.

Stanko is running for re-election against Detective Joe Nole, who he appointed undersheriff after being elected in 2014. Last year he demoted Nole to detective and appointed Art Frank undersheriff.

In the report Stanko emailed to staff, the investigator wrote that there’s no basis to conclude that Stanko violated any law or policy, but did include a footnote on Stanko’s alleged conduct.

In that footnote, the investigator wrote “although the alleged remarks did not violate non-discrimination policies, such conduct — if it occurred — seems out of place in today’s professional law enforcement working environment.”

The Peninsula Daily News filed a public records request in February for all formal complaints made against Stanko and reports of investigations of Stanko since Jan. 1, 2017, and since then has received hundreds of pages of documents — mostly emails — related to Stringer’s complaint.

When Stanko learned of the allegations against him he was “incredulous,” he wrote to other county officials and an attorney who frequently represents counties, in an email obtained through the public records request.

In Stringer’s letter, also obtained through a public records request, Stringer claims that he had no intention of retiring until Stanko took office.

Had Stanko not taken office Stringer could have worked another 10 years, he wrote. Stringer, who was seriously hurt while on duty in April of last year, suffered a traumatic brain injury and retired June 30, 2017, on his 53rd birthday.

In his complaint, Stringer says he retired as a result of the harassment and other allegations he had against Stanko.

“Being forced to retire has made a significant impact to my future financially, losing up to 10 years of salary and impacting my retirement pension significantly,” Stringer wrote in his letter to the county dated May 7.

In that letter, Stringer wrote that he is missing out on more than $1 million in lost salary over the next 10 years.

“This is a very significant amount and significant impact to my family’s retirement, by no fault of my own,” Stringer wrote. “Putting a dollar amount of [sic] David Stanko’s abuse is almost impossible, but again, his constant abuse, harassment, and eventual demand for my retirement, had, and continue to has [sic], a significant impact on my life.”

Stringer had routinely told people at the department he would retire June 30, but Stanko demanded his written resignation on several occasions, he wrote.

He cited two occasions in early March in which Stanko asked him in front of others for his written resignation.

The investigator wrote that the Sheriff’s Office could not initiate the hiring process for Stringer’s replacement until after the county received formal notice of a retirement date.

That formal notice would allow the Sheriff’s Office to begin hiring his replacement, a process that can take upward of a year.

“Stanko and other command staff … said there was never any intent to pressure Stringer to decide to retire; rather, the objective was to receive written notice of Stringer’s final plan so that replacement hiring could commence,” the report says.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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