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Best Not To Come Back

Editorial for July 5

Best not to come back

In denying a petition for review in the case of Klickitat County v. Michael Beck, General Teamsters Local No. 524 and Steve R. Shields,

the Washington Supreme Court did almost everyone a disservice.

The county had asked the Supreme Court to overturn an arbitrator's ruling that called for fired ex-Klickitat County Sheriff's Deputy Steve Shields to be reinstated. The Supreme Court's June 5 action means the arbitrator's decision stands, thereby clearing the way for Shields to return to duty with the Sheriff's Office -- complete with approximately six years of back pay and accumulated seniority.

This is a case that goes back many years, and it's unfortunate that it still cannot be laid to rest.

Shields, as most residents of the area remember clearly, was serving as a sergeant with the Sheriff's Office in May 1994 when he pulled over White Salmon resident Dennis Allen, 33, near BZ Corner on suspicion of drunken driving. In the ensuing confrontation between the two men, Shields fired his service revolver and killed the unarmed Allen. Shields contended that his life was in danger. There were no witnesses to the incident.

Testimony in the coroner's inquest raised troubling issues, although the six-member advisory jury determined the shooting was "justifiable." The Washington Attorney General's Office subsequently decided there was not enough evidence to warrant prosecution of Shields.

Now, more than seven years after the incident, the courts have essentially ordered KCSO to reinstate Shields, like it or not.

"We're going to comply with the court order," Sheriff Chris Mace said. Mace was not with KCSO when the fatal shooting took place, yet he will now be forced to deal with the aftermath.

It is difficult to understand why Shields would want to come back. His return to KCSO is certain to create controversy. It could divide the Sheriff's Office along the lines of those who support Shields and those who agreed with the decision to fire him, building tension within the Sheriff's Office at a time when the department appears poised to regain stability after a rocky few years.

County residents are likely to be similarly divided about the return of Shields.

Remember, although its decision was later overturned by former Goldendale Police Chief Robb Hampshire (Hampshire had been chosen to oversee the review process regarding the Allen shooting), a three-member Deadly Force Review Board unanimously recommended that Shields be fired for not following department procedures.

Worst of all, the reinstatement of Shields can only serve to reopen terribly painful wounds for the family and friends of the victim, Dennis Allen, and they have suffered enough.

Because the return of Shields to duty would be divisive, it's hard to imagine that Shields himself would feel comfortable. He would be back on the job, yes, but he would also be working at the center of a storm.

It would appear to be better for all concerned -- including Shields himself -- if he were simply to stick to another line of work.

JB

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