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County rejects claim for $2 million over deputy

Island County dismissed claims Monday for $2 million in damages brought by a South Whidbey girl and her family who contended that an Island County Sheriff's deputy violated the girl's rights.

Two separate claims filed early last month by Ronald and Joy Edwards -- one on behalf of the couple's 17-year-old daughter Jacqueline -- allege that Deputy John Sawyers violated the family's civil rights when he responded to a complaint about illegal fireworks at the Edwards' Maxwelton Beach property last Fourth of July.

The Edwards' allege that Sawyers came onto their property "with no probable cause." They claim Sawyers cuffed and uncuffed Jacqueline Edwards -- who was at the residence -- several times, saying he didn't like her attitude and asking if she wanted a "second chance."

The family's complaint says the girl suffered from heat illness while sitting for long periods of time in the deputy's car.

But at Monday's meeting of the Board of Island County Commissioners, Betty Kemp, the county's risk manager, dismissed the claim out of hand. She recommended the board deny both claims "based on the fact that the allegations are unfounded."

The board followed Kemp's recommendation unanimously.

Replying to a legal question posed by Commissioner Bill Thorn, Kemp said it is necessary to file a claim for damages prior to pursuing a civil suit. After making a claim at this level, the Edwards' could take the matter to court.

"I'm sure we'll see this later," Commissioner Mac McDowell said.

On Thursday, Jacqueline Edwards refused to comment on whether the family would file a lawsuit.

In their claims against the county, the Edwards family cites a number of justifications for seeking such a large monetary award.

"Our residence was invaded and searched without any probable cause," the Edwards' claim states. "As a result ... we suffered violations of our civil rights under the U.S. Constitution and the Washington State Constitution, including but not limited to illegal search and seizure, violation of freedom of speech and association, and denial of equal protection."

It is the Edwards' contention that their daughter "was extremely distressed" during the incident and continues to suffer emotional distress as a result.

The claims also contend that the deputy humiliated Jacqueline Edwards in front of the neighborhood, swore at her and acted unprofessionally.

According to sheriff's office spokeswoman Jan Smith, the incident was investigated independently by the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office. No fault was found with Sawyer's actions.

The sheriff's office has responded to numerous calls for assistance at the Edwards residence in the past. During the last seven years, deputies have responded to the family home more the 75 times, according to sheriff's office records. Most of the complaints were called in as domestic disturbances.

Smith said the sheriff's office can't comment about the Edwards' claims because it involves potential litigation.

Record editor Matt Johnson contributed to this article.

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