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Fired Deputy Wins Back Pay, Seniority

Washington Supreme Court rules in favor of Klickitat County deputy, allowing him to return to work after nearly six years

By NEITA CECIL

Gorge News Report

The Washington Supreme Court let stand a ruling that a Klickitat County deputy involved in a fatal 1994 shooting was wrongly fired in 1996.

That June 5 Supreme Court decision clears the way for Steve Shields to return to work.

Klickitat County had petitioned the court to review a January 2001 state appeals court ruling that reinstated Shields. By denying the petition to review the lower court ruling, the Supreme Court let that ruling stand.

"The county has to give me my job back with back pay and benefits and my seniority," said Shields, who has driven a dairy truck since shortly after he was fired.

Shields was offered a $125,000 settlement several years ago, but turned it down because it wasn't enough money.

"I've got legal bills too stemming out of this. I would be leaving a job and benefits and they're going to have to give me something that's going to be comparable to that when I walk out the door," Shields said.

He is also open to returning to work at KCSO.

If he went back, "I'll just start where I left off, hopefully with an administration that's going to treat me well, treat me the same as anybody else there," he said.

But he believes the county doesn't want him to return.

"Obviously they've fought it this long. Obviously they don't want me back, that's kind of a given," he said.

Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Hagarty said the county would likely issue a press release on the county's next step in the matter.

Shields fatally shot Denny Allen during a traffic stop in May 1994 in a private driveway near BZ Corner. The shooting was found justifiable by a coroner's inquest jury late that year. A special prosecutor did not rule the shooting justifiable, but took the lesser step of declining to prosecute.

A Deadly Force Review Board, made up of police administrators from outside the area, recommended that Shields be fired for violating departmental policy.

That recommendation went to then-Goldendale Police Chief Robb Hampshire, who concluded Shields acted as a reasonable officer would in the circumstances, and should not be fired.

Over a year later, then-sheriff Karen von Borstel ordered Shields to undergo a fitness for duty exam. The examiner concluded he was unfit for duty. Von Borstel fired Shields 10 months later.

Shields took another fitness for duty test, and the second psychologist found him fit for duty and strongly criticized the methodology and finding of the first exam.

Shields appealed his termination, and an arbitrator ruled the sheriff lacked grounds to order the fitness for duty test, and ordered Shields reinstated with back pay.

The county appealed, and a trial judge ruled the arbitrator overstepped his bounds in considering whether the fitness for duty exam was justified and vacated the arbitrator's ruling.

Shields then appealed the trial judge's ruling, and an appeals court reversed the trial judge early this year.

The Supreme Court's decision exhausts all appeals in the state court system.

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