Public can 'air their grievances' about controversial Thurston County Sheriff's Office hire 


Thurston County Sheriff Derek Sanders has invited the public to "air their grievances" during an April 11 public forum set up after the resignation of a controversial hire.

On April 1, Sanders swore in Christopher Burbank, a former Tacoma police officer who was acquitted in the murder trial of Manny Ellis in police custody. Burbank was hired to serve as a lateral Sheriff's deputy. He resigned effective immediately following community backlash.

When Sanders announced Burbank's resignation, he promised to schedule a public forum where community members could express direct concerns. On Saturday, the Sheriff's Office announced the forum will occur from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Atrium, the county government building at 3000 Pacific Ave. SE in Olympia.

In a Thursday Facebook post, Sanders shared a collage of internet comments and memes that criticized his decision to hire Burbank.

"People are unhappy, people will continue to say and write things, but I'll still be here next week to fulfill the obligation I made when I took the job, knowing it wouldn't be easy," Sanders said. "See you soon."

Sanders said in the post that he chose to take the weekend off to be with his loved ones so he could separate himself from the "reality" of being Sheriff and refocus.

"For the last 16 months I have lived this job, learning what it takes to walk down a paper-thin line as the Sheriff while attempting to balance the angles of mistrust and sharp political divide that seems to protrude everywhere in our society about everything," Sanders said in the post.

He said he hasn't taken two consecutive days off since last July and he's been feeling the "compounding effects of fatigue set in every day." He said he has chosen not to take more time off because his staff "can't."

Since taking office last year, Sanders has repeatedly said the Sheriff's Office needs more staff and resources to serve a county of over 300,000 people.

In November, Thurston County voters passed a Public Safety Tax that primarily helps fund law enforcement. While that may help in the long run, challenges remain for the Sheriff's Office in the short term.

In a letter to the community last week, Sanders explained his decision to hire Burbank. He said pressure was building internally and externally to fill vacancies at the department. He added that staff also have left due to the county's comparatively lower wages.

"When I made the decision to hire Deputy Burbank, I failed to consider the greater community impact and instead made the decision based on business needs to remedy TCSO's staffing crisis," Sanders said in the letter.

"Furthermore, I entirely misjudged community perception of the investigation and jury process that Deputy Burbank completed. I recognize the harm this has caused to marginalized communities, and I was wrong."