A Washington County Sheriff's Office deputy was placed on administrative leave Monday, June 1, for using racial epithets in an email the deputy sent more than 16 years ago, the Sheriff's Office said in a statement.
The Professional Standards Unit of the Sheriff's Office has opened an investigation into the allegations, which officials said they received Sunday. The unit oversees internal investigations within the Sheriff's Office and is comprised of two full-time sergeants and is overseen by a commander.
"While it appears the email is over 16 years old and four years before being employed at the Sheriff's Office, it is entirely inconsistent with the core values and professional standards at the Sheriff's Office," the statement read.
The Sheriff's Office has not provided any additional details about the deputy nor the contents of the email. A resident notified the Sheriff's Office about the email via social media, officials said.
"We understand and appreciate the community's concern over such an allegation," said Sheriff Pat Garrett in a statement. "We are thankful it was brought to our attention, and we are committed to a thorough investigation and appropriate action."
The allegation comes as days of protests against racial injustice in law enforcement continue in Portland and cities around the world after a black Minneapolis man, George Floyd, died when a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25.
Asked about the timing of the allegations, when concerns over racial bias in law enforcement are elevated, Sgt. Danny DiPietro said, "The timing is very interesting, but I don't know what the motive is for this information to come out now rather than earlier. I can't speculate."
DiPietro didn't immediately know how frequent such allegations against deputies are, saying the Sheriff's Office has launched similar investigations into complaints made against deputies' actions prior to their being hired at the agency.
"It doesn't matter if it was before or after they were hired," DiPietro said. "Any complaint is going to be thoroughly investigated."
The deputy in question had two previous complaints on file that were unrelated to the email. Both were deemed "unfounded," meaning the Sheriff's Office determined the deputy's actions were "lawful and proper,"DiPietro said.
Background checks during the hiring process for deputies include seeking comments about the personal character of applicants, DiPietro said without providing details about what procedures background investigators follow.
"Speaking from personal experience, I can't count how many family members they spoke to when I got hired," DiPietro said. "They spoke to my neighbors in person, they spoke to references that I gave them, and then they asked references for references."
A three-day compliance assessment by the Sheriff's Office's national accreditor, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, concluded on Friday. The assessment measured the Sheriff's Office's ability to meet public safety standards and included a virtual inspection of facilities due to the coronavirus, a virtual public hearing, and interviews of staff, partner agencies and community members, the Sheriff's Office said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.
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