Sheriff cans Island County detective following sexual harassment charges

The deputies’ guild is seeking arbitration on the Island County sheriff’s decision to fire a detective accused of sexual harassment.

John Nieder, a 13-year veteran of the office, lost his job this summer after another employee in the office accused him of inappropriately touching her and making sexual and belittling comments, according to Undersheriff Kelly Mauck.

“It was really a text book case of sexual harassment,” Mauck said.

The administration has no tolerance for such discriminatory harassment, added Mauck, as it violates the department’s code of ethics, the conduct policy and the oath of office. He said the office has regular training about sexual harassment, which Nieder participated in as late as last March.

“We hold our employees to the highest standard,” he said.

Nieder was also investigated for allegedly assaulting a citizen while on duty this summer. The Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office has yet to make a charging decision in the case, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said.

Mauck said that the assault was in connection with a June 3 traffic stop. Nieder stopped a motorcyclist in Oak Harbor. Mauck said the motorcyclist was “mouthy” and Nieder allegedly pushed him off his motorcycle.

The man complained to the sheriff’s office the next day. Another law enforcement officer at the scene largely corroborated the allegations, Mauck said.

Nieder was placed on paid administrative leave the next day.

In order to avoid a conflict of interest, Mauck asked the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office to investigate. Banks asked the Skagit County prosecutor to make a decision on whether to charge Nieder with fourth-degree assault.

Mauck said an employee made the sexual harassment allegation against Nieder June 10. He asked the county’s human resources department to look into it; the investigation substantiated the allegations, Mauck said.

Sheriff Mark Brown fired Nieder, effective July 21. The termination was based on the sexual harassment allegations.

Nieder appealed to the sheriff; Brown denied the appeal.

The guild advised the sheriff this week that it wanted arbitration for Nieder, which is their right under their contract. Mauck explained that an independent arbitrator will decide whether to uphold the termination, modify the termination or reinstate Nieder.

Nieder has one letter of reprimand in his file, but it wasn’t related to harassment, sexual or otherwise, according to the undersheriff.

Mauck said there hasn’t yet been an internal investigation into the assault allegations. He said that won’t happen until after any criminal case is resolved.

Mauck said the sexual harassment allegations are an isolated, albeit embarrassing, incident for the department. He said he and the sheriff take a hard line on the issue.

“It is not pervasive in any shape or form in our department,” he said. “This is quite the exception.”