10/31/2014

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Former deputy sues claiming he was wrongly fired for speaking up

Former deputy sues claiming he was wrongly fired for speaking up

VANCOUVER, Wash. - A sheriff's deputy, who was fired after his 3-year-old son got a hold of his gun and shot himself, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer Thursday.

Ed Owens blames a gun safe for the death of his son and says he should not have been fired from the Clark County Sheriff's Office. He wants his job back and his name cleared.

His son, Ryan, got access to his back up gun and accidentally shot and killed himself in 2010. It had been locked up in the safe.

Owens claims the sheriff knew there were problems with the gun safes that his office issued to deputies before his son died but did nothing about it and continued to hide the fact they were faulty even after other complaints.

Owens was cleared of any fault by child protective services but a sheriff's investigation, seven months later, said he improperly stored the gun. The Stack-On Strong Box gun safe had possibly been opened by an 11-year-old.

Owens says he believes he was really fired because he put pressure on the sheriff to get rid of the safes.

Mark Tobias, a well-known security expert demonstrated for KATU News on Thursday how quickly the safes can be opened without the lock code by simply dropping it from a short distance, jarring the lock open.

"We begged the sheriff’s office to pull those safes as soon as the lead detectives told us," Owens said. "We found out the day of our son's memorial that it was defective. We begged them to pull them and they refused this entire time. ... It's our worst nightmare that we're going to wake up the next day and some other kid is going to be dead because they want to cover up. They don't want to look at the issue."

Owens attorney, Greg Ferguson, said: "Ed Owens was told a number of times, 'Ed, it was a tragedy, just let it go.'"

The safes cost $36 and Tobias said you get what you pay for and the concern is they are still in the homes of more than 400 law enforcement families in Clark County.

Similar gun safes had been recalled but not the type given to the deputies.

The lawsuit also alleges that when at least two other people reported their safes malfunctioned, too, the sheriff's office destroyed those two safes before they could be tested.

The sheriff's office would not comment Thursday, citing pending litigation.

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