Jefferson County settles complaint against sheriff

$40,000 to be awarded to former captain

David Stanko

David Stanko

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County has settled with former Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Stringer over his allegations that the sheriff attempted to improperly demote him, frequently used vulgar, offensive, insulting language, and forced him to retire early.

The settlement agreement, which the Peninsula Daily News obtained Monday through a public records request, said Stringer will be awarded $40,000, a quarter of which will go to his attorney.

“What we did in settling this was there was no admission of any fault because we strongly believe there was none, but we were settling rather than bearing the cost of going to court,” Administrator Philip Morley said Wednesday of the Nov. 14 settlement. “We really felt that there was no merit.”

Stringer said he could not comment because of the settlement agreement.

Stringer sent a letter to the county earlier this year asking for a $250,000 settlement or to enter into mediation over his complaints that Sheriff David Stanko had harassed and ridiculed him, attempted to demote him without cause and forced him to retire early.

The county, which has a $25,000 deductible with its risk pool, will pay about $3,150. Morley said that in paying for an investigation — which Stanko has said exonerated him of all allegations — and legal fees, the county had already neared its deductible.

Morley said the investigation found the county had no liability with Stringer.

Stanko sent an email to county staff Jan. 26 after he learned reporters had filed records requests about the complaint, informing staff that the investigation the county paid for found that he was “exonerated.”

Stanko, who has been on vacation since he lost the Nov. 6 election to detective and former undersheriff Joe Nole, said Wednesday he was unaware the complaint had been settled. He expects to return to his office next week, he said.

Undersheriff Art Frank has been the acting sheriff since the election.

Without seeing the terms of the agreement, the Jefferson County commissioners gave Morley the authority to sign a settlement agreement during a Nov. 13 meeting.

“They held an executive session prior to mediation and granted me settlement authority,” Morley said.

The Jefferson County administrator was granted the authority to sign settlement agreements related to employment when commissioners passed Resolution 27-15 in 2015. The resolution said the county administrator must provide notice when a proposed agreement is more than $50,000 cost to the county, which has a $25,000 deductible with the risk pool.

Commissioner David Sullivan said Wednesday he was aware the county was settling but could not recall whether he was told the amount.

“I’d have to go back and look at my notes,” he said, adding that he wasn’t familiar enough with the settlement to provide a comment.

Stringer, who was seriously hurt while on duty in April, suffering a traumatic brain injury, retired June 30, 2017, on his 53rd birthday.

In his complaint, Stringer wrote that 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.

His last day on the job was in April 2017. He filed the complaint in May 2017 while he was on disability and retired that June.

“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.

“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 said.

Stringer also wrote in his complaint, citing three specific instances, that Stanko frequently made inappropriate comments to him.

Stanko told the investigator that he and Stringer engaged in mutual, good-natured “bantering” during command staff and other small group, close-door sessions. He denied making the specific remarks Stringer wrote of in his complaint.

In a footnote in the investigative report, 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.”

________

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

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