By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The lawyer for the fired Lewis County Jail sergeant shot back yesterday, issuing a press release criticizing Sheriff Steve Mansfield for attempting to try the case in the news media, reminding news reporters of Mansfield’s personal experience of being investigated for alleged criminal conduct.
Centralia attorney Shane O’Rourke said he represents Trevor S. Smith, who was terminated at the end of last month for mistreatment of two inmates and then arrested earlier this week for allegedly accessing secure jail computer records while he was still on the job.
“As a career corrections officer, my client respects the court system and the judicial process, and because of that we are not going to make any comments about the facts of the disciplinary proceedings or criminal case against my client other than to say that there are always more facts to a story than what only one side offers,” O’Rourke wrote. “We will allow those facts to come out through the legal process.”
Mansfield revealed on Wednesday that Smith was let go because he abused his authority in dealing with assaultive inmates, insinuating Smith moved beyond containing the situations and into punishing the individuals.
The sheriff called Smith’s actions disgusting and embarrassing, but didn’t go into much detail, citing a concern of jeopardizing a termination hearing.
However, a fulfilled public record request for the June 27 termination letter and other related documents show Smith was disciplined last year after directing that an inmate be kept in a restraint chair for approximately twelve hours without food, water, or restroom breaks.
And on Jan. 25, an inmate with mental health issues was not offered a wet towel, a shower or any “decontamination” for more than five hours after Smith had directed the discharge of OC-10 pepper spray into his closed cell, according to the sheriff’s office. There was no running water in the cell at the time, having been shut off the day before due to his attempt to flood the cell.
The termination letter from Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff Steven Walton noted that in both cases squad members approached Smith about attending to the inmates’ needs and Smith ignored them, allowing the inmates to suffer.
“Your conduct in this case screams of deliberate indifference to the care and well-being of those over whom you are responsible,” Walton wrote on behalf of the sheriff. “Indeed your conduct ‘shocks the conscience’ and could be viewed as violating basic civil rights possessed by all human beings regardless of status.”
Smith’s attorney O’Rourke pointed out Mansfield is an outgoing sheriff and that his office isn’t supposed to be involved in a large part of the investigation – Smith’s criminal case – because of a conflict of interest.
O’Rourke noted the sheriff has had firsthand experience as both being the subject of an investigation – in 2009 when allegations were made of Mansfield harboring a runaway; the 16-year-old girlfriend of his son, a case that ended with no charges filed – and contended he has before attempted to impose his own beliefs and try a case in the media before it was brought to court.
“(A)s was the case with the Ronald Brady homicide from a number of years ago, where his judgment was later proven to be incorrect by a trial court and appellate court,” O’Rourke stated.
O’Rourke was one of two Lewis County deputy prosecutors who tried the Brady case in 2011 and has since moved into private practice with the firm of Buzzard and Associates. Sheriff Mansfield refused to arrest Brady who shot at two intruders on his Onalaska property, saying it was self defense.
“My client and I hope that as this case moves forward, Sheriff Mansfield draws upon these experiences and discontinues any efforts to improperly taint this case and further prejudice my client,” O’Rourke wrote.
The June 27 letter did not name the two inmates, but did offer further details about the most recent incident.
The inmate with mental health issues was described as a man large in stature, 6-feet 9-inches tall and about 275 pounds, who had exhibited aggressive behavior since his incarceration. He was being held in the medical observation area when he reached through the cuff port in his cell and grabbed an officer’s keys, pulling the officer against the door, according to Walton.
The inmate got the keys, but returned them shortly after an entire three-ounce can of OC-10 was discharged into the cell, Walton wrote.
The decision to use force, the pepper spray, to gain compliance wasn’t questioned, according to Walton.
But leaving him to suffer without any relief was extremely serious and demonstrated unacceptable judgement and decision making, he wrote.
Walton left the sheriff’s office when on July 1 he took a position as Lewis County budget administrator, but has been designated to continue in the chief of staff-undersheriff role for the purposes of handling Smith’s case.
Smith was hired at the sheriff’s office in 2004 and promoted to jail sergeant in 2011.
Smith has filed a grievance through his union, asking to be reinstated, claiming his termination was not for just cause.
His arraignment on charges of computer trespass is set for next Thursday.
For background, read “Lewis County Jail sergeant let go for mistreating inmates, then arrested for computer snooping at work” from Wednesday July 16, 2014, here