May 21, 2024

Sep. 10—A former deputy with the Nez Perce County Sheriff’s Office has filed a tort claim alleging he was unlawfully terminated from his job after charges were dismissed on an arrest he made.

George “JR” Gregory filed the lawsuit July 14 with U.S. District Court for the District in Idaho in Moscow against several officials in Nez Perce County, including the Nez Perce County Sheriff’s Office, Nez Perce County Sheriff Bryce Scrimsher and the Nez Perce County Board of Commissioners, according to the lawsuit. Gregory is represented by attorney Kristen Thompson of Thompson Law Firm in Meridian and Nez Perce County is represented by Bentley Stromberg of Clements, Brown and McNichols in Lewiston, who filed a response Aug. 7 denying most of the claims in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged that Gregory was unlawfully terminated “as the result of retribution for actions of the Nez Perce County Sheriff’s Office” and therefore violated his constitutional rights. The lawsuit alleges that around Sept. 22, 2022, Gregory reported to Nez Perce County Commissioner Don Beck that he saw officers viewing pornography, and later reported other actions of a sexual nature at the sheriff’s office, according to the document.

A response to the lawsuit denies that Gregory was unlawfully terminated and denies the report he made to Beck, according to the document.

The Lewiston Tribune submitted a public records request for the reason or cause for Gregory’s termination, but the request was denied because that information isn’t a public record and “contains information about a personnel issue that is currently in litigation,” according to a response from Nez Perce County.

Gregory was called to an alleged domestic violence incident Nov. 19, 2022, that resulted in the arrest of a man for obstructing and delaying. Gregory’s lawsuit alleges he asked four times for the name of the person “in suspicion” of the domestic violence incident and the man also allegedly refused to listen to officers or follow instructions, according to the complaint. The man also allegedly entered the home out of the sight of Gregory, which made Gregory fear for his safety and the safety of a new officer he was supervising. Gregory detained and arrested the man and placed him in custody, according to the complaint.

The response to the lawsuit denies most of the circumstances of the arrest because of its “ambiguity,” according to the document.

In the probable cause affidavit written by Gregory, it states that four Nez Perce County deputies as well as two tribal officers responded to a domestic call at 9:43 p.m. in Culdesac. When law enforcement arrived, the man refused to identify himself “two times,” and then the man walked into his house. The other deputy and Gregory waited for the man outside the home. The man walked out the house holding a phone and it was unknown if he had a weapon, according to the affidavit.

Gregory turned on his flashlight and asked the man for his name, and the man said he didn’t need to give it, according to the affidavit.

The man “had been yelling and out of control since our arrival on scene,” Gregory’s affidavit states. Gregory stated that he decided to place the man in handcuffs because of his state of mind and because he wouldn’t stop and talk to law enforcement about the incident. Gregory placed him against a vehicle and the man allegedly “resisted and pushed away.” The man was then placed on the ground and handcuffed. Gregory then walked the man to the patrol vehicle and said he was arrested on a charge of obstruct and resist. The man was taken to the Nez Perce County Jail, according to the affidavit.

The Lewiston Tribune obtained the body camera and dash camera footage of the arrest from Gregory and other officers who responded.

In the videos, one of the deputies attempts to talk with the man, who refuses and tells the deputy, “I don’t answer questions.” The deputy stands outside of the home while the man goes into his home and comes out holding a phone. Gregory stands near the man and turns on his light, and the man says, “Can I help you?” Gregory replies that he’s turning on his light. The man then makes a reference to the domestic incident and asks if that’s why the deputies are there.

The videos also show another deputy talking with the woman and the man tells her to stop talking and walks over to her. Gregory and another deputy walk with him, and the deputy begins to ask him a question when the man says, “Don’t rush up on me, man.”

Then the videos show the man being arrested and held against a vehicle. The man asks, “Am I being detained?”

In the videos, the man can then be seen on the ground and Gregory tells him he’s going to be detained because of his “attitude.” During the arrest, the man is told to stop resisting and to relax, and the man says he’s not resisting and he has his hands up.

As the man is getting arrested, a woman can be heard saying to the deputies “are you serious?” and “is this necessary?” There are three officers holding down the man during his arrest in the video.

While the man is being taken to the patrol car, he asks several times why he’s being detained and if he’s being arrested. He tells the deputies he doesn’t have to tell them his name and he didn’t know they were responding to a domestic call.

When the man asks about why he is being detained, Gregory responds, “Just because … you’re acting the way you are.” He also tells the man that he wasn’t giving deputies his name, wasn’t answering their questions and was trying to prevent the woman from talking to deputies. Because of that, the man was interfering with an investigation of a domestic call.

The man says that he has the right to remain silent and doesn’t have to give his name to law enforcement. Gregory then says the man is interfering with an investigation.

The video also shows the man being placed into a patrol vehicle and objecting to a search after he is placed in the car. Gregory tells the man he is under arrest for “obstruct and delay” when the man asks what he’s being arrested for.

The lawsuit alleges that the Watchguard System that allows law enforcement to review and draft reports was inoperable and the county allegedly didn’t help Gregory recover the information on it. Gregory allegedly wasn’t able to amend his report when the body camera footage became available. The suit also alleges that video evidence wasn’t reviewed before Gregory’s termination, according to the complaint.

The Watchguard System is used by the Nez Perce County Sheriff’s Office to store footage from body cameras and car cameras. Footage is automatically uploaded when a deputy returns to the office or plugs the body camera into a charger. Footage can be viewed by any deputy who has access to the system and can be searched using the deputy name or the case number, and can also be copied to a disk.

The county’s response to the lawsuit denies that the Watchguard System was inoperable, video wasn’t reviewed and Gregory wasn’t allowed to amend his report, according to the document.

The single misdemeanor charge against the man who was arrested was eventually dismissed by the Nez Perce County Prosecutor’s Office based on the “interests of justice” and the case was closed Dec. 5, according to court documents.

A notice from the prosecutor’s office notifying defense attorneys, judges and other law enforcement agencies about the incident was sent Dec. 29, 2022. The notice states that Gregory allegedly had false information in the report, and misrepresented what occurred during the incident and the reason for the arrest, which led to the charges being dismissed because the arrest was inappropriate. It also states that Gregory would no longer be used as a witness by the prosecutor’s office, according to the document. However, the lawsuit alleges the notice was issued Dec. 6, 2022.

Gregory’s lawsuit alleges the Nez Perce County Sheriff’s Office released the arrested man without reviewing Gregory’s evidence, stating that he had made an improper arrest. The response to the lawsuit denies that the man was released without reviewing the evidence.

Gregory was placed on administrative leave Nov. 30, 2022, and allegedly had one hearing about his potential termination Jan. 5. He was then terminated Jan. 12, according to the lawsuit. The response to the lawsuit agrees that Gregory was placed on administrative leave and later terminated but denies the other allegations about the procedures and reasons it took place, according to the document.

Gregory’s lawsuit alleges that no action was taken on the alleged report of the pornography viewing. The lawsuit claims that video of the arrest showed “no wrongdoing” and the “true cause of termination” was Gregory notifying the Nez Perce County Commissioners about the alleged viewing of pornography at the sheriff’s office and Gregory’s “efforts to stop this behavior,” according to the claim.

The response to the lawsuit denies that no action was taken on the allegation of the pornography viewing and denies the firing was related to it. The response to the lawsuit agrees that Gregory was terminated “but (denies) the remaining allegations and inferences,” according to the document.

A notice of tort claim was submitted Jan. 18 before it was filed in district court in July.

The lawsuit seeks more than $900,000 in damages for loss of income to be proven at trial as well as loss of benefits, damage to Gregory’s professional reputation and standing in the community, physical and emotional distress. The lawsuit also alleges the actions caused Gregory to lose supervision of his K-9 partner, Ikar, which caused emotional distress and alleges animal cruelty and misapplication of Nez Perce County Sheriff’s Office resources. The lawsuit alleges that his termination and the notice from the prosecutor’s office have made it “impossible” for Gregory to have another comparable job at another law enforcement agency. It also claims that the actions have interfered with Gregory’s retirement as well as other benefits. The lawsuit also seeks payment for retirement benefits and attorneys fees and costs, according to the document.

In addition to denying most of the claims in the lawsuit, the county’s response also denies that Gregory’s constitutional rights were violated. It also claims that Gregory didn’t post a bond with the court before filing the lawsuit, which is required before a lawsuit is filed against a law enforcement officer.

A scheduling conference will take place Oct. 17 by telephone, according to court documents.

Brewster may be contacted at kbrewster@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2297.

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