VANCOUVER, Wash. (CN) – A former sheriff’s deputy says he was fired for raising concerns that his 3-year-old son would not have accidently shot himself fatally if the locking function on the county’s gun safes worked properly.
Eddie Owens sued Clark County, its Sheriff Garry Lucas and Chief Deputy Mike Evans for wrongful termination and retaliation over an incident that occurred after the tragic shooting death of his 3-year-old son Ryan in 2010.
Owens says the Stack-On Strong Box gun safe is used by Clark County by police officers, and the locked safe at his Battle Ground home was opened by one of his children.
Authorities cleared Owens and his wife of any negligence or fault in their son’s death following an investigation. Officers are required to keep their guns inside a locked safe which is used across the county.
“A lead police detective investigating Ryan Owens’ death determined that the Stack-On safe’s locking mechanism had malfunctioned. Two other Stack-On gun safes randomly selected were evaluated and found to have similar defects in the locking mechanism,” the complaint says.
“I have genuine concerns that the Stack-On Strong Box safe can allow unwanted access to the contents of the safe,” the detective allegedly wrote in a memo to his superiors. “I’m making you aware of this problem so necessary steps can be taken to ensure the safety of our personnel and their families.”
Owens claims Sheriff Lucas and Chief Deputy Evans hid the fact that there were problems with the gun safes’ ability to lock, and fought back against a push to remove the faulty safes.
“In retaliation for plaintiff’s repeated complaints regarding the dangers posed by the Stack-On gun safes and to chill his ability to further complain, Lucas, Evans and the County prosecuting attorney’s office ‘reopened’ an investigation into plaintiff and launched a new internal affairs review designed to publicly discredit him and justify his eventual termination from employment,” the complaint says.
In April 2011, the Sheriff referred the case to Multnomah County, Oregon prosecutors attempting to obtain criminal charges against Owens, the complaint says.
Owens was fired in November 2011 following the internal investigation, where he had complained about withholding and fabricating evidence, and ethics violations.
He says he was fired for his “efforts that would have exposed what Lucas, Evans and the County already knew: That the locking mechanisms on the gun safes had been malfunctioning for years, and had Lucas and Evans taken action, Ryan Owens’ death could have been prevented.”
Both before and after being fired, Owens says the defendants portrayed him in false and negative light to the media and their peers.
“Plaintiff was then branded as a dishonest cop and placed on the county’s Brady v. Maryland watch list without any notice or the ability to challenge the designation, thereby effectively ending his employment opportunities in law enforcement,” the complaint says.
Owens sued for wrongful termination, retaliation, civil conspiracy, false light/defamation, invasion of privacy, and infliction of emotional distress. He is represented by Gregory Ferguson.