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Tonasket Settles With Former Police Officer Who Alleged Mayor Said His Name Was 'Too Hispanic'

Tonasket, in Washington's Okanogan County, no longer has a police force after the mayor disbanded it.
Courtesy city of Tonasket
Tonasket, in Washington's Okanogan County, no longer has a police force after the mayor disbanded it.

A former police officer in the Okanogan County town of Tonasket will receive $80,000, after he alleged the mayor told him his name sounded “too Hispanic.”

Neither Jose Perez or Tonasket admits liability or wrongdoing in the settlement, which was largely paid by the town’s insurance program. The city paid a $5,000 deductible for the claim last month. The tort claim that Perez filed in July 2019 has been withdrawn.

Perez, who was one of three people in the town’s police department, took his allegations to the Tonasket City Council in January 2019, where he described what he said Mayor Dennis Brown told him.

“He told me, ‘I changed your name from Jose to Joseph because Jose sounds too stereotypical. It sounds too Hispanic,’” Perez said, according to a video posted on YouTube of the meeting.

Former Tonasket police officer Jose Perez at a council meeting in January 2019.
Credit Courtesy YouTube. Uploaded by Omak Chronicle
Former Tonasket police officer Jose Perez at a council meeting in January 2019.

The command wasn’t just behind closed doors. Brown was with Perez during a ride-along when Perez approached someone.

“I introduced myself. I said, ‘My name is Officer Jose Perez.’ The mayor looks at me. He says, ‘What did we talk about.’ I went back and said, ‘My name is Joseph Perez,’” Perez said.

The former officer’s allegations roiled the town of 1,100 people. One council member asked the mayor to resign. Another tried to cut the mayor’s pay from $650 a month to $50. 

Instead, Brown received a vote of no-confidence, and remains as the city’s top elected official until 2021.

In an interview, Brown said Perez was unhappy that he disbanded the Tonasket Police Department, which led to the allegations of a name change, which Brown denies.

The city now has a contract with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office for police services.

Brown also denies being a racist.

“I have so many Hispanic friends around here that you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “We even have a black family that lives in town. I have no problems with any of them.”

Tonasket City Council member Christa Levine said she is glad the settlement is done, and sees a silver lining.

“I think everyone’s moved on, and that’s good,” she said. “Our council meetings have increased in numbers. Community members come to be more informed, and knowledge is power.”

Valor Law Group, the law firm that represented Perez in the case, would not comment for this story.

Copyright 2020 Northwest News Network

Nick Deshais roams eastern Washington, North Idaho and northeastern Oregon as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network. Nick has called the region home since 2008. As a journalist, he has always sought to tell the stories of the area’s many different people, from the dryland farmers above the Odessa aquifer to the roadbuilders of Spokane. Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Nick worked as a print reporter in Washington, Oregon and Michigan. Most recently, he covered city hall and urban affairs at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. Nick was raised in rural Northern California, and is a graduate of Portland State University, where he earned degrees in history and math. When off the clock, Nick enjoys state-spanning bike tours, riding subways in foreign cities and walking slowly through museums. Nick’s reporting and writing has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and the Best of the West. He was a Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan in 2017, and a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2011.