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City in turmoil: Mayor accused of racism, disbands police

TONASKET, Wash. — A tiny city in Washington state is in turmoil after a police officer came forward with allegations that the mayor wanted him to start using the name “Joseph” because “Jose” sounded too Hispanic.

The mayor also has disbanded the small police department in Tonasket, and City Council members are demanding he resign. The issue blew up at a City Council meeting Tuesday in the city of about 1,100 people.

Former Officer Jose Perez told the council that Mayor Dennis Brown asked him to stop using the name Jose when he interacted with residents, The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane reported .

“He asked me to introduce myself to the public as Joseph,” Perez told the council, according to video of the council meeting. Perez said he was told Jose “sounds too Hispanic.”

Brown denied ever telling Perez to use the name “Joseph.”

“That’s false,” Brown told the newspaper Thursday. “I asked him what he would prefer to be called. He didn’t say anything at the time.”

Brown last week disbanded the three-person Tonasket Police Department, prompting calls for his resignation.

At Tuesday’s meeting, City Councilwoman Christa Levine said she had lost confidence in the mayor. Councilwoman Jill Ritter said it was time for Brown to resign.

“Your answers to questions from this council and the public have not been consistent or truthful at times,” Ritter said. “I will not allow your lies to drag me and this council down and reflect poorly on all of us.”

“Asking Jose Perez to refer to himself as Joseph is appalling,” she added.

Disbanding the Police Department left the Okanogan County sheriff’s office as the only law enforcement agency in the remote region about 250 miles (400 kilometres) northeast of Seattle. Tonasket is north of the town of Omak, near the Canadian border.

Undersheriff Aaron Culp said the city had not yet contracted with the sheriff’s office to provide services in the city. But deputies will respond to serious crimes, Culp said, and the city will handle other matters.

“The citizens are in a state of somewhere between panic and concern that a service they are used to having is seemingly not covered by the city,” Culp said. “We understand their concerns and are working with the city administration to come up with a solution.”


Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com

The Associated Press