Tonasket Settles With Former Police Officer Who Alleged Mayor Said His Name Was 'Too Hispanic'

Mar 12, 2020

A former police officer in the Okanogan County town of Tonasket will receive $80,000, after he alleged the mayor told him his name sounded “too Hispanic.”

Neither Jose Perez or Tonasket admits liability or wrongdoing in the settlement, which was largely paid by the town’s insurance program. The city paid a $5,000 deductible for the claim last month. The tort claim that Perez filed in July 2019 has been withdrawn.

Perez, who was one of three people in the town’s police department, took his allegations to the Tonasket City Council in January 2019, where he described what he said Mayor Dennis Brown told him.

“He told me, ‘I changed your name from Jose to Joseph because Jose sounds too stereotypical. It sounds too Hispanic,’” Perez said, according to a video posted on YouTube of the meeting.

Former Tonasket police officer Jose Perez at a council meeting in January 2019.
Credit Courtesy YouTube. Uploaded by Omak Chronicle

The command wasn’t just behind closed doors. Brown was with Perez during a ride-along when Perez approached someone.

“I introduced myself. I said, ‘My name is Officer Jose Perez.’ The mayor looks at me. He says, ‘What did we talk about.’ I went back and said, ‘My name is Joseph Perez,’” Perez said.

The former officer’s allegations roiled the town of 1,100 people. One council member asked the mayor to resign. Another tried to cut the mayor’s pay from $650 a month to $50. 

Instead, Brown received a vote of no-confidence, and remains as the city’s top elected official until 2021.

In an interview, Brown said Perez was unhappy that he disbanded the Tonasket Police Department, which led to the allegations of a name change, which Brown denies.

The city now has a contract with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office for police services.

Brown also denies being a racist.

“I have so many Hispanic friends around here that you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “We even have a black family that lives in town. I have no problems with any of them.”

Tonasket City Council member Christa Levine said she is glad the settlement is done, and sees a silver lining.

“I think everyone’s moved on, and that’s good,” she said. “Our council meetings have increased in numbers. Community members come to be more informed, and knowledge is power.”

Valor Law Group, the law firm that represented Perez in the case, would not comment for this story.