By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A former candidate for Lewis County sheriff is contending a back room deal between the sheriff’s office and a local news reporter where assistance in obtaining a new job was given in exchange for news coverage that reflected badly upon him during his run for public office.
Brian Green claims the county concealed public records that showed evidence of a political pay off to Stephanie Schendel.
Schendel was a crime reporter at The Chronicle during the 2014 campaign. She was subsequently hired as a police officer by the city of Bellevue, with help from a formal recommendation from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, according to Green.
Green, an Onalaska resident who ran as an Independent, received less than 23 percent of the vote in the November 2014 election. Former Deputy Sgt. Rob Snaza got 77 percent and replaced outgoing Sheriff Steve Mansfield.
Green’s allegations come in a lawsuit he filed alleging a violation of the state public records act by Lewis County.
Eric Eisenberg, one of two Lewis County attorneys who submitted the response to the lawsuit, says there was no deal to get Schendel to write anything about Green.
“No, of course not,” Eisenberg said. “The county doesn’t do business that way.”
It was an honest mistake in which the sheriff’s office didn’t realize until Green sued, that he wanted other records beyond just the copy of the job recommendation, he said.
The suit was filed Nov. 17 in Thurston County Superior Court. The details of Green’s suspicions of a “politically motivated quid pro quo” are presented in a motion he filed earlier this month, in which he asks a judge to find in his favor, claiming there are now no disputed material facts.
Green writes in his court documents that after Schendel “orchestrated a series of prejudicial media hit pieces” that were “instrumental in ensuring” his campaign would be unsuccessful, he was surprised to learn she obtained a job as a police officer.
So he set out to determine if her career change from a small town newspaper reporter to a big city law enforcement officer was related, he wrote.
According to the allegations which Eisenberg does not dispute, Green made a records request on November 19, 2014 asking the sheriff’s office for any and all official correspondence endorsing, advocating, commending, recommending or otherwise recognizing Schendel.
And on the same day, Chief Deputy Stacy Brown responded, asking for clarification, Green replied back and Brown partially fulfilled the request by sending Green a copy of a letter of recommendation she had written for Schendel.
Green subsequently discovered in records he obtained from the city of Bellevue there were documents Brown had failed to produce, in the form of email correspondence between the two agencies as well as a questionnaire seeking Brown’s input for the police department’s background investigation in early August 2014.
In Lewis County’s answer to the lawsuit, a declaration from Brown states it never occurred to her the questionnaire might be a document falling within the phrasing Green used in making his request, and she hadn’t even recalled it existed.
Brown indicated to the Bellevue investigator she believed Schendel would make an excellent police officer and an outstanding addition to the Bellevue Police Department.
She noted that no one else from the media in the previous 18 years had been able to build such a positive relationship with the sheriff’s office as Schendel.
Brown wrote about how hard Schendel worked to prepare herself physically and mentally to become a police officer, having talked about wanting to be a police officer for over a year.
Green contends the materials Brown withheld are the smoking gun evidence of a payoff to Schendel.
He is asking the court to award him costs, attorney fees and penalties.
Eisenberg acknowledges Lewis County violated the public records act, but says the non-compliance was a good-faith mistake. And, as soon as the county learned there were other records he had wanted, it provided them to Green, he said.
He acknowledges Green is entitled to an award in the amount of costs he incurred, for his $240 court filing fee.
The next question is the penalty, according to Eisenberg, which the county is arguing against having to pay.
The public records act provides for, at the discretion of the court, an award to the requestor of up to $100 per day for each day a record was withheld.
A hearing is scheduled in April for each side to present evidence on its view of the case.