Former Thurston K9 Handler Negotiated Leave After Department Considered Criminal Investigation

Investigation: Tyler Turpin Rebukes Claim He Misled Department on Money Made Through Social Media

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Recently-released internal investigation documents are shedding new light into the conduct of a former Thurston County Sheriff’s Office deputy who says his ouster from the department was unwarranted.

The documents show that the former deputy, who was investigated for allegedly profiting off county assets, was being accused of misleading superiors about how much money he earned through social media application TikTok and other donations he received through his access to an injured K9 dog.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation into Tyler Turpin, 30, on Feb. 24 for complaints alleging he “personally profited from social media accounts by use of county-owned resources, i.e. K9 Arlo, without having previously obtained written department approval” and for allegations he “was not truthful in providing answers regarding profits earned during the aforementioned off-duty employment,” the documents read.

The deputy ultimately left before the county could interview him and before investigating officers could obtain additional financial documents proving or disproving the allegations, effectively closing the investigation as inconclusive. That was about a month after a Thurston County prosecuting attorney told the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office there was enough evidence to pursue a criminal investigation.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, Turpin and a representative with the Thurston County Deputy Sheriff’s Association ultimately all signed into a separation and lease agreement on April 6 saying that the sheriff’s office would end its investigation into the deputy and give him the dog for $1 if he resigned.

Turpin previously told The Chronicle he had been ousted without reason. He said he plans to run for sheriff against incumbent John Snaza next year.

The former deputy remains the owner of K9 Arlo, a social media star and retired police dog who was accidentally shot by police officers during a pursuit in January. Turpin and other officers were ultimately placed on administrative leave for investigation following the pursuit and officer-involved shooting.

Arlo’s injuries were heavily chronicled by Turpin on social media and received national attention. According to investigation documents, “in a short period of just weeks, Dept. Turpin, K-9 Arlo and the sheriff’s office were thrust into the social media limelight.”

The documents, which detail a relatively brief month-long investigation, paint Turpin as a deputy who cared more about his social media work and being able to utilize Arlo in TikTok videos than he did about working with the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, an agency he’d been employed with since October 2018.

“Tyler said that this is so important to him that he is willing to lose his job to keep his account. Tyler did not seem sensible and I chalked it up to being in a critical incident, his partner being shot, staying at home to take care of his partner, rumors of drinking and majority of support from millions of fans,” read a Feb. 18 memorandum written by an investigating lieutenant.

Turpin denied the claims.

His use of a social media accounts starring K-9 Arlo, who earlier this year was property of Thurston County, was in violation of the sheriff’s office’s social media policy, and deputies confronted superiors in the leadup to the investigation worried he was making money off the account, the documents show. 

Some lead officers with the sheriff’s office were aware of Arlo’s social media accounts going back to June 2020, though they were unaware until after the shooting that Turpin’s account was generating money, documents show. One officer confirmed in a conversation, though, that Turpin didn’t have that social media account linked to a bank account.

The department ultimately struggled to get Turpin to follow social media guidelines. He also failed to turn over financial documents relevant to the investigation prior to his decision to leave, and Turpin’s business dealings that developed in the wake of the shooting and rising social media fame raised eyebrows and additional questions of broken policies.

Lt. Cameron Simper, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said in an email Friday morning that the department could not answer questions about Turpin’s separation from the department.

Turpin continues to say he’s innocent.

“I truly feel I didn’t do anything wrong. I wish I was still at that department,” he said. “At the end of the day, the admin made it feel like they didn’t support me.”

The Chronicle received the 126-page investigation through a public records request filed earlier this month.

The uncompleted investigation also details the following:

• One sergeant who interviewed Turpin on Jan. 25 at the request of a superior, prior to the investigation being opened, said Turpin told him he only made “pennies” off his Arlo videos and hadn’t spent any money or had the fund linked to a banking account. When pressed for specific amounts, Turpin said $3,800. That sergeant, during a witness interview later, said “the math just wasn’t jiving” between what TikTok’s payment rate is and what Turpin said he was receiving.

• On Feb. 17, Turpin told an investigating lieutenant he’d earned a total $4,973.46 on TikTok since Jan. 1. His TikTok W2 from the year prior showed he made $584.16.

• Arlo and Turpin received “truckloads” of gifts, Amazon gift cards, get-well packages, dog products and get-well cards, many with financial gifts, following the police shooting.

• Since at least June 2020, there had been department-wide confusion about if the Arlo social media accounts had been officially signed off by Turpin’s superiors. Turpin remained adamant that the social media accounts were his own and his idea, and he intended to keep them when questioned by a lieutenant prior to the investigation.

• Screenshots of Turpin’s TikTok creator fund showed he’d amassed $5,043.60 in total estimated balance. The Creator Fund is a payback program that lets video creators keep a slice of revenue generated by the app on a per-view basis.

• Screenshots show Turpin donated at least $3,551.13 to the K9s of Valor Foundation, a police dog nonprofit, as previously requested by sheriff’s office leads.

• Two deputies approached the investigating lieutenant on Feb. 11 and claimed Turpin had bought a new car for his partner and paid cash for it. The deputies believed he was profiting off Arlo.

• The investigating sergeant attempted to schedule an interview with Turpin for the week of March 22. Within an hour of sending out the request for an interview, one of the other lieutenants reached out to the investigating sergeant saying Turpin had told them, “if you give me Arlo, I will leave now.” Turpin began negotiating a leave agreement later that day with the police union.

 

Dollars and Cents

It’s still not entirely certain how much money Turpin made off TikTok following Arlo’s line-of-duty injury. And due to the nature of Turpin’s departure from the department, and the fact that he continues to use the platform to this day, that might not come to light.

Turpin’s work with VARLO LLC also reportedly went against the sheriff’s office policy. VARLO LLC is a Cherokee, North Carolina-based clothing company he started with another K-9 content creator.

One sheriff’s office sergeant reported seeing a live video on Turpin’s K9Arlo Instagram page in which viewers gave “tips” to the streamer. The sergeant was not aware of how many tips were made, but noted the video was a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.

 

Turpin’s Response

In a phone conversation, Turpin described the investigation levied against him as a systematic effort to remove him from the department.

“I think they try to portray me as a bad guy,” he said. “I’ve told them since day one that money will be donated and it was. Not one time did I want to keep that for myself.”

Turpin said he started plans to leave about a month prior to his departure. He was aware of the criminal investigation talks in the days leading up to his departure, but said he wasn’t motivated by that to leave.

He said he’s been nothing if not “100%” honest with the department about how much he had been making with TikTok. When he told a sergeant he’d been making pennies, he was referring to the rate at which TikTok doles out its funds.

“In 2020, I was making about $20 a month and he didn’t really think much of it. Then January happens and it’s just so much money — yeah, I’m going to donate it. I told them I was going to donate it before they even requested it,” he said.

Turpin claims his personal banking account and the county’s K-9 foundation has never been connected to the Arlo TikTok. It has been connected to the K9s of Valor and his business, VARLO, though he said he makes donations to the former nonprofit.

When asked if he acknowledged he was clearly in violation of the department’s social media policies while making the Arlo videos, Turpin said he was told by others in the department that they didn’t’ really follow any social media policy. He said the ambiguous nature of that got muddled as he started doing video of ride-alongs for the department.

Today, instead of hitting the graveyard shift in a K-9 unit, Turpin works in the field as a social media manager for a nonprofit he’d previously been associated with.