PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Sheriff David Stanko recently sent an email to county staff “under the auspices of transparency,” informing them he has been exonerated of all allegations raised against him by a former captain in his department.
Former Capt. Mike Stringer, who retired last summer, alleges in a complaint filed with the county last year that Stanko tried to improperly demote Stringer and another captain, that the Sheriff’s Office is improperly spending funds obtained through Homeland Security grants, that Stanko uses offensive, vulgar and insulting language and that Stanko improperly pressured Stringer to retire.
“As you may or may not know, I have been subjected to a whistleblower investigation since May, 24, 2017,” Stanko wrote to staff on Jan. 26. “There was a thorough, comprehensive investigation conducted by an independent investigator.
“I have been exonerated on all allegations.”
That investigation, conducted by Poulsbo attorney Russ Perisho, concluded Oct. 22.
Stringer said last week that he plans to discuss possible further action with his attorney.
Stanko said Friday he sent the email — including an attachment — because he heard reporters had filed a public records request.
“I can’t address anything specifically other than the document speaks for itself,” he said. “I cannot comment on any personnel issues for fear of violating the rights of any of our employees here.”
The Peninsula Daily News filed a public records request on Tuesday for all formal complaints made against Stanko and reports of investigations of Stanko since Jan. 1, 2017.
“The investigation summary speaks for itself,” Stanko said. “I wish Mr. Stringer a good retirement.”
County Administrator Philip Morley, County Commissioner David Sullivan and Teamsters Local 589 representative Dan Taylor all declined to comment last week.
Stringer, who was seriously hurt while on duty in April, suffering a traumatic brain injury, retired on June 30, 2017, on his 53rd birthday.
He said last week it was a retirement that couldn’t come soon enough.
“I am retiring as a result of the harassment and allegations contained herein,” he wrote in his complaint.
He 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.
“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.
His last day on the job was in April. He filed the complaint in May while he was on disability and retired in June.
Stringer wrote in his complaint that within two weeks of Stanko taking office in January 2015, Stanko met with him and another captain and told them of his intention to demote them both to the rank of sergeant.
On Jan. 14, 2015, Stanko wrote in an email to staff announcing that he was appointing an undersheriff and consolidating command staff.
He wrote that “the classifications of Captain and Sergeant will be consolidated into one classification” where they would each function as shift supervisors.
“Sheriff Stanko claimed his reason was that he did not like the current rank structure, and preferred four patrol sergeants and one Chief Criminal Deputy,” Stringer wrote.
Perisho determined the assignment change did not violate any law or policy.
Stringer complained that in 2015 Stanko used “offensive, vulgar, insulting marks” on at least three occasions that he documented.
He wrote that “though Sheriff Stanko has continued to make very public comments to citizens about ‘changing the culture’ of the Sheriff’s Office … he has been the biggest offender in our agency about making inappropriate comments to staff.”
The three instances he cited in his complaint were “three of the MOST offensive comments” he had documented, he wrote. He also wrote that Stanko would routinely use an obscene hand gesture and say “[expletive] you Stringer,” in front of others.
When asked if there is a culture at the Sheriff’s Office in which it is acceptable for anyone to use the “offensive, vulgar, insulting remarks,” described in Stringer’s complaint, Stanko said “our culture here is fantastic.”
The investigator wrote in his report that there is “no basis for concluding that Stanko’s 2015 comments and joking were unlawful discrimination or otherwise prohibited by County policy.”
The report said that some deputies corroborated Stringer’s accounts while others didn’t recall such incidents.
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.
“Stanko said in his interview that part of this ‘fraternal law enforcement bantering’ involved him occasionally giving Stringer the middle finger gesture,” the report says.
Stringer said that because Stanko was his superior who he felt had tried to demote him, he couldn’t quip back at Stanko out of fear of retaliation.
In a 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.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].