BEND, Ore. - Former Deschutes County sheriff’s deputy Eric Kozowski filed a $3.4 million federal lawsuit Monday against Deschutes County and Sheriff Shane Nelson, the man who defeated him in the 2016 election and fired him on Jan. 31.
The 25-page lawsuit, filed by Kozowski’s attorneys -- Martin Hansen, Michael McGean and Christopher Manfredi -- alleges wrongful discharge, as well as retaliation for whistle-blowing about problems in the agency, and requests a jury trial.
Kozowski claims the sheriff and county violated his First Amendment rights, as well as state law, administrative rules and sheriff’s office policies, by retaliating against him and wrongfully terminating him.
Kozowski is seeking $3.4 million in economic damages, including lost wages and employee benefits, as well as noneconomic and punitive damages to be determined at trial. The suit calls the actions of the county and sheriff “malicious and demonstrating an intentional, wanton and/or reckless indifference to plaintiff’s First Amendment rights.”
The fired deputy claims the agency excluded him from several committees after he announced his unsuccessful run to unseat the then-appointed sheriff.
The lawsuit also claims Nelson violated his own agency’s policy by wearing his uniform while campaigning, while forbidding Kozowski from doing so. The challenger wore his uniform anyway, one of the issues that rose in the deputy’s internal investigation over alleged policy violations.
Kozowski claims Nelson told supervisors to “keep an eye on him,” since the deputy was an outspoken critic of how Nelson was running the sheriff’s office. He said the action was taken against him as retaliation.
Nelson told NewsChannel 21’s Pedro Quintana late Monday that he was expecting the lawsuit, since a tort notice had been filed previously, and that he is only working to hold sheriff’s office employees accountable.
You can read the full lawsuit here: