Sheriff fires 2 deputies for illegal vehicle search

The sheriff’s opponent in the November elections called the terminations politically motivated.

EVERETT — Two Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies, including a union president, lost their jobs Friday after an internal investigation found they had conducted a warrantless search of a suspect’s car two years ago, then tried to cover it up.

Sheriff Ty Trenary accused them of dishonesty and other policy violations.

“After a thorough and impartial investigation we found that these two deputy sheriffs had not only conducted an illegal search, but did it in a way that made it clear that they knew what they were doing was wrong,” Trenary wrote in a decision letter.

Trenary’s opponent in Tuesday’s election, sheriff’s Sgt. Adam Fortney, accused his boss of playing politics.

One of the terminated deputies is Matt Boice, a master patrol deputy and union president of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association. He’s been with the sheriff’s office for nearly a dozen years and was named the 2016 Patrol Deputy of the Year.

Boice said he agreed with Fortney and would work with the union to contest his firing.

“I was terminated because I supported Adam,” he said.

The other deputy is Evan Twedt, who has been with the sheriff’s office for four years and has had “a number of positive performance evaluations and commendations,” according to the sheriff’s discipline letter.

Two other officers were involved in the search, according to the investigation. One deputy was terminated earlier for unrelated reasons, sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

Memos outlining the allegations that led to the deputies’ terminations say the internal investigation started in early June, when a lieutenant learned of a 2017 traffic stop that involved a possible warrantless search. When the lieutenant heard the account of a potentially “serious violation of a suspect’s civil rights,” he moved the concern up the chain of command.

A questionable search

On June 10, 2017, the two deputies were assigned to the city of Snohomish, which contracts with the sheriff’s office for police services, when Boice pulled over a car for going 45 mph in a 35 mph zone.

During the traffic stop, Boice reportedly noticed a pipe in plain view and placed the driver — the only occupant of the car — under arrest for suspicion of possession of drug paraphernalia. Twedt arrived on scene about that time.

After placing the man in handcuffs, the deputies found suspected methamphetamine in his pocket and a baggie of .22-caliber ammunition in the driver’s side door. The man reportedly admitted to buying the drugs from a dealer in the area.

The detained man declined to let the officers search his vehicle. Deputies searched it anyway, according to the sheriff’s investigation. One of them found a shotgun in the trunk.

The sheriff later alleged that at least one of the deputies knew the man was a felon who wasn’t allowed to have a gun.

Boice and Twedt said they were performing an inventory search, in which deputies make an account of items in a vehicle before it’s towed, for liability reasons in case the owner claims to have lost their belongings.

The sheriff’s memo, however, says the deputies called for an “evidence tow” — a procedure for securing a vehicle to be searched later at a sheriff’s office impound lot. In such cases, no inventory is done before serving a search warrant.

Furthermore, since 2016, sheriff’s office policy explicitly prohibits deputies from opening a vehicle’s trunk during an inventory search. That means that even under the procedure the deputies claimed they were following, the trunk would have been off-limits.

During a pre-disciplinary hearing in September, a union attorney argued the deputies didn’t know they were violating policy and weren’t acting maliciously.

In his summary of the investigation, Trenary disagreed. He described how the deputies apparently circumvented search warrant practices.

While they eventually claimed to be taking an inventory, the deputies made no mention of it in any of their reports. Nor did they acknowledge finding a shotgun at the scene, before obtaining a search warrant.

Boice and Twedt appeared to be using “unlawful search techniques” before jumping through the legal hoops, Trenary wrote.

“Your failure to mention anything here that would even potentially provide a judge or a superior officer some clue that you had already done the search is both telling and damning,” Trenary wrote.

As a result of the search, Trenary wrote, the suspect eventually pleaded guilty to drug possession.

For the plea, prosecutors agreed to drop charges for unlawful possession of a firearm, which would have carried a harsher sentence.

The sheriff alleged that at least one of the deputies knew the man to be a felon who wasn’t allowed to have a gun.

The suspect has already served his time for the conviction and paid the resulting court fines, Trenary wrote.

“The actions of these two employees … in conducting a warrantless search violated the civil rights of a Snohomish County resident leading to his wrongful conviction,” Trenary wrote in his statement released Friday. “These actions strike at the heart of the trust the public places in us. And, even after they were approached about their actions, they lied and refused to admit any wrongdoing, eroding the trust I had in these deputies to carry out their law enforcement duties.”

Playing politics?

In a Facebook post, Fortney called the terminations politically motivated. He said Boice and Twedt have worked with him on night patrol for the past couple of years and were outspoken supporters of his campaign.

According to state Public Disclosure Commission records, Boice contributed $700 to Fortney’s campaign. The Deputy Sheriff’s Association voted to endorse Fortney over Trenary. Fortney is the immediate past president of the union. Boice said he now must step down from his position as president of the union.

Trenary fired another deputy, Art Wallin, in early October after another investigation. Trenary concluded that Wallin violated department policy when he shot and killed 24-year-old Nickolas Peters a year ago. Fortney was Wallin’s supervisor that night.

“It is well known inside the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office that you do not challenge this administration or you will face retribution,” he wrote on Facebook.

In an interview with The Daily Herald on Friday, he called the terminations “absurd.”

“There is mass confusion in our patrol ranks of what we’re allowed to do and when we’re allowed to do it,” Fortney said.

If the deputies violated policy, Fortney said the sheriff’s office should bear some responsibility. He argued the sheriff’s office didn’t adequately train deputies when it rolled out a new policy manual in 2016.

In a September letter addressed to sheriff’s office leadership, Fortney said he wasn’t aware that deputies couldn’t search the trunks of vehicles. He wrote that he and his crew had “inventoried a trunk countless times over the last several years.”

“It is not an integrity issue, it is not a dishonesty issue and it is not a shady cop issue,” he said. “It is a training issue.”

Fortney’s remarks in the memo caused the sheriff’s office to start an internal investigation to determine whether he had violated policy. Fortney said he objects to the investigation.

Fortney called for an independent investigation into the firings by the county’s executive and prosecutor.

County Executive Dave Somers’ office confirmed that it received a whistleblower complaint within the past month. The office has hired an independent investigator to look into the claims.

“Beyond those things, because of whistleblower laws and because we want to protect people who come forward, we can’t speak in any more detail,” county spokesman Kent Patton said.

Trenary said he welcomed any outside investigation.

In his termination letters to the deputies, the sheriff said their actions struck “at the heart of the trust a citizenry puts in its law enforcement officers.”

The requirement for a search warrant isn’t just a legal technicality, Trenary wrote, but the “underpinning of our freedom as citizens.”

“Put simply, the government does not get to search (or seize) our property or persons without fair and legal reason to do so,” Trenary wrote.

The terminations add to the tension brewing at the sheriff’s office during election season. The contest between Trenary and Fortney has highlighted divergent philosophies about how to lead the county’s largest law enforcement agency.

Voters will make their choice Tuesday.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

This story has been modified to correct the rank of sheriff’s deputy Matt Boice.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Oso man gets 1 year of probation for killing abusive father

Prosecutors and defense agreed on zero days in jail, citing documented abuse Garner Melum suffered at his father’s hands.

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin steps back and takes in a standing ovation after delivering the State of the City Address on Thursday, March 21, 2024, at the Everett Mall in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
In meeting, Everett mayor confirms Topgolf, Chicken N Pickle rumors

This month, the mayor confirmed she was hopeful Topgolf “would be a fantastic new entertainment partner located right next to the cinemas.”

Alan Edward Dean, convicted of the 1993 murder of Melissa Lee, professes his innocence in the courtroom during his sentencing Wednesday, April 24, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Bothell man gets 26 years in cold case murder of Melissa Lee, 15

“I’m innocent, not guilty. … They planted that DNA. I’ve been framed,” said Alan Edward Dean, as he was sentenced for the 1993 murder.

FILE - A Boeing 737 Max jet prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle, Sept. 30, 2020. Boeing said Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, that it took more than 200 net orders for passenger airplanes in December and finished 2022 with its best year since 2018, which was before two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max jet and a pandemic that choked off demand for new planes. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Boeing’s $3.9B cash burn adds urgency to revival plan

Boeing’s first three months of the year have been overshadowed by the fallout from a near-catastrophic incident in January.

Police respond to a wrong way crash Thursday night on Highway 525 in Lynnwood after a police chase. (Photo provided by Washington State Department of Transportation)
Bail set at $2M in wrong-way crash that killed Lynnwood woman, 83

The Kenmore man, 37, fled police, crashed into a GMC Yukon and killed Trudy Slanger on Highway 525, according to court papers.

A voter turns in a ballot on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, outside the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
On fourth try, Arlington Heights voters overwhelmingly pass fire levy

Meanwhile, in another ballot that gave North County voters deja vu, Lakewood voters appeared to pass two levies for school funding.

Judge Whitney Rivera, who begins her appointment to Snohomish County Superior Court in May, stands in the Edmonds Municipal Court on Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Judge thought her clerk ‘needed more challenge’; now, she’s her successor

Whitney Rivera will be the first judge of Pacific Islander descent to serve on the Snohomish County Superior Court bench.

In this Jan. 4, 2019 photo, workers and other officials gather outside the Sky Valley Education Center school in Monroe, Wash., before going inside to collect samples for testing. The samples were tested for PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, as well as dioxins and furans. A lawsuit filed on behalf of several families and teachers claims that officials failed to adequately respond to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in the school. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Judge halves $784M for women exposed to Monsanto chemicals at Monroe school

Monsanto lawyers argued “arbitrary and excessive” damages in the Sky Valley Education Center case “cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.”

Mukilteo Police Chief Andy Illyn and the graphic he created. He is currently attending the 10-week FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. (Photo provided by Andy Illyn)
Help wanted: Unicorns for ‘pure magic’ career with Mukilteo police

“There’s a whole population who would be amazing police officers” but never considered it, the police chief said.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.