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Backlash continues over Thurston County hiring/resignation of former Tacoma cop

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(The Center Square) – Fallout continues from last week’s controversial hiring and sudden resignation of a Thurston County Sheriff’s deputy.

Sheriff Derek Sanders will host a public meeting this week, inviting people to “air their grievances” about the decision to hire Christopher Burbank, a former Tacoma police officer who was acquitted in the murder trial of Manny Ellis while he was in police custody.

A community backlash led to Burbank resigning two days after his hiring was posted on Facebook.

On Saturday, the Sheriff’s Office announced the forum will occur from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The Atrium building in Olympia.

Burbank and two other officers were cleared in the death of Manuel Ellis in a 2023 trial and the three officers agreed to resign with $500,000 payouts to each of them.

After posting on Facebook the hiring of Burbank, comments came fast and furious both for, and in opposition to, the announcement.

But after Sheriff Sanders posted about Burbank’s resignation, the vast majority of comments voiced regret about the decision.

In a Friday post, Sanders wrote, “The last few days have been a lot for everyone, to say the least. I’ve stated from the beginning that I’ve always wanted what’s best for Thurston County as a collective whole. Becoming Sheriff was never a career goal for me, and to be frank, I realize now why only two people in a county of 300,000 applied for the job last time it opened.”

Sanders said he’d be taking the weekend off to spend with family.

“I talk a big game about mental health and wellness in law enforcement, yet I personally haven’t taken 2 consecutive days off since July of last year. This year I’ve felt the compounding effect of fatigue set in every day. However, my staff are tired too and I’ve held the position that I’m not taking off days from work if they can’t.”

In November, Thurston County voters passed a Public Safety Tax that primarily helps fund law enforcement.

Short-staffing was, according to Sanders, a big factor in the decision to hire Burbank.

He said pressure was building to fill vacancies within the department, with a lot of officers leaving for other agencies where the pay is better.