SOUTH BEND — A hearing on the firing of Matthew Padgett was cancelled Tuesday, Feb. 11 after the county reached a $37,600 settlement agreement with the former chief deputy.
As part of the settlement Padgett released the county from any future claims against them and dropped his human rights complaint and administrative complaint against the county. The county signed the settlement on the advice of its attorney risk pool. The Pacific County Board of Commissioners approved the settlement Tuesday.
As part of the agreement, a letter was added to his personnel file that changed his departure from the office to a voluntary resignation rather than a termination.
The settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing, said Kathy Spoor, Pacific County administrator. Its purpose is to save the county from the uncertainty of future litigation, she said.
Padgett was fired from his position as chief criminal deputy on Dec. 6. At the time, the sheriff’s office cited policy violations.
Public records released by Pacific County gave more context about Padgett’s firing. Padgett’s termination letter written by Sheriff Robin Souvenir, explained the findings of the investigation into Padgett’s office policy violations.
In his role as a supervisor, Padgett made multiple remarks about an employee’s disability, Souvenir wrote. Padgett reminded the employee that as a new hire, they were on probation and could be easily fired. And Padgett used a rude nickname for the employee related to their disability, Souvenir wrote.
“Even if not intended to be discriminatory or harassing, these comments could reasonably have been interpreted as discriminatory and harassing,” Souvenir wrote.
Though Souvenir had Undersheriff Ron Davis oversee the investigation because Padgett was Souvenir’s brother-in-law, Souvenir made the termination decision.
In an article about the firing published in the Chinook Observer on Dec. 11, Padgett said he disagreed with the firing and planned to clear his name at his liberty interest hearing. The hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 11, but was cancelled and not rescheduled as of press time.
Before being fired, Padgett was placed on administrative leave in September 2019 after the sheriff’s office received two complaints about Padgett’s office behavior. The county launched an investigation into Padgett. Michael T. Kitson was the county’s risk pool attorney retained to evaluate Padgett’s actions. Kitson’s firm, Lane Powell, employed attorney Chris Burton to conduct the investigation.
Burton interviewed 13 witnesses, including past and present sheriff’s office employees and officers from other law enforcement agencies. Both Souvenir and Padgett were interviewed.
The employee who complained about Padgett said they’d never had a coworker, let alone a supervisor, treat them the way he did. The comments Padgett made about the employee’s disability seemed to have been in a “more mean-spirited way when he’s wrong about something or can’t figure something out,” the employee told Burton.
In his interview, Padgett acknowledged referring to the employee’s disability, but denied specific comments, according to summary of the investigation detailed to Padgett in a letter written by Souvenir on Nov. 4, 2019. Padgett acknowledged knocking a pen off the employee’s desk, then telling the employee to pick it up off the floor, but said it was a joke. He did comment on the employee’s probation status, but also said it was a joke.
Padgett told Burton he’d made it clear he wasn’t in the office to ”make friends but is there to do a job.”
On Dec. 4, 2019, Padgett filed a complaint about his firing with the Washington State Department Human Rights Commission. In the complaint, Padgett said he asked to work different hours or work remotely to avoid office staff, who he said harassed him. Padgett asked his supervisors, Davis and Souvenir, to tell the staff to stop, according to Padgett’s complaint.
The sheriff’s input
Souvenir told Burton he’d heard Padgett refer to the employee’s disability at least once in the office. Souvenir couldn’t remember the specifics of what Padgett said, but he said it made him uncomfortable and he told Padgett whether he was joking or not the behavior needed to end. Padgett denied Souvenir said this.
Padgett never had complaints about the employee’s work, Souvenir said.
Burton asked Souvenir about his time as chief of the Shoalwater Bay Police Department. Padgett worked for Souvenir as a lieutenant with Shoalwater until December 2018. Padgett left the department after he was investigated by Washington State Patrol for bullying and sexual harassment of department staff. The investigation was terminated when Padgett left the Shoalwater police and no conclusion was reached.
Souvenir told Burton the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe said it would stop investigating Padgett if he’d “go away.” Souvenir never got a report on the findings about Padgett’s behavior, he said. When Souvenir became sheriff, he said he appointed Padgett not because he was his brother-in-law, but because Souvenir knew Padgett’s work from Shoalwater.
While working for the sheriff’s office in March 2019, Padgett was investigated after an employee reported Padgett had called a subordinate an obscenity, according to a memo from prosecuting attorney McClain. However, the subordinate said Padgett did not create a hostile work environment. The investigation was then closed.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office also investigated Padgett while he worked for the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office. Lewis County was asked to investigate harassment allegations made against Padgett by a Shoalwater Bay Police Department officer and a former Raymond Police Department officer. The alleged behavior occurred before Padgett joined the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office. Lewis County prosecutors did not file charges against Padgett.