Ex-Pacific County undersheriff suing for public records

Todd Fosse, the Pacific County undersheriff who was fired last year, has filed a lawsuit in Grays Harbor Superior Court against his former employer — Pacific County and the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office — and alleges the county failed to fulfill a public records request that may answer questions about his termination.

The complaint, filed in Grays Harbor County Superior Court on Aug. 23, alleges Pacific County failed to provide a timely response to five public records requests that encompassed thousands of emails, texts, voicemails, notes, logs and other documents while Fosse was employed. The first public records request was dated April 8, 2015, about two weeks after Fosse’s dismissal.

Some of the records requested referenced “all information relating to Denise Rowlett and firearm training and firearm qualifications or failure at firearm qualification.” Rowlett is a chief deputy with the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office.

Requested records also included “documents relating to costs or purchases associated with reassignment of K-9 to deputy that assumed K-9 duties after Dep. Kangas’ resignation.” Former PCSO deputy Justin Kangas now works as a Lewis County deputy.

Documents relating to “taxes owed, balances due, interest due or outstanding tax obligations” by Scott Johnson and Johnson & Sons Excavating from Jan. 1, 2011, to Sept. 14, 2015, were also requested.

According to letters from the Pacific County Records Center (entered as exhibits in the lawsuit) state portions of the requests had been fulfilled. Other requests, the letters said, would take up to 120 business days to complete, and if not reviewed within a certain time frame, would be considered abandoned. The letters also stated that thousands of emails had to be reviewed before completing some of the requests.

Pacific County filed an answer to the lawsuit on Sept. 12. The county asked for dismissal of the suit, and denied allegations that Fosse was dismissed without explanation. The county also denied that certain requests had been reinstated after abandonment.

Benjamin Compton, of Vreeland Law, represents Fosse in the matter.

“Mr. Fosse requested certain public records in hopes of learning the real reason for why he was terminated from his former position as Pacific County Undersheriff,” Compton said in an email. He also said he had advised Fosse to not provide comment during the ongoing litigation.

“This lawsuit is to compel Pacific County to timely disclose requested records, to hold it responsible for its failure to adhere to the requirements of Washington’s Public Records Act, and to ensure it adheres to those requirements in the future,” Compton said in an email to The Daily World.

When asked why certain records were requested, Compton said he was not willing to answer.

Fosse was appointed by Sheriff Scott Johnson and was served as undersheriff from Jan. 1, 2011 up until he was fired March 23, 2015. The lawsuit alleges the separation was without cause.

According to a Chinook Observer article, dated March 23, 2015, the undersheriff was dismissed for undisclosed reasons with the sheriff acknowledging that it was not a mutual decision. In that same article, Johnson said he could not discuss the termination and that Fosse was not suspected of crimes or serious forms of misconduct.

Sheriff Scott Johnson said he could not comment on ongoing litigation. Pacific County Administrative Officer Kathy Spoor, who oversees the public records center, said she could not comment on the lawsuit.

David Fine, of the Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney’s office representing Pacific County in the matter, was not available for comment.