Former Mill Creek police chief under investigation
Greg Elwin has been on leave since Jan. 17 after a vote of no confidence by the Mill Creek Police Guild
Last updated 4/3/2020 at 5:26pm
Editor's note: Our somewhat neighbor to the east, Mill Creek, is a city that has seen some high drama over the past few years. City managers come and go – they come, they get fired for reasons unexplained (Ken Armstrong), or they just don't show up for work.
The latter would be Rebecca Polizzotto, a city manager so toxic it seemed most City staff quit instead of dealing with her. She made $172K a year, then filed for unemployment. Oh, and she used a City credit card for her personal use.
Then there's Joni Kirk, a communications chief fired for an illegal recording of an personnel interview.
City Council hasn't been immune. One councilmember, Sean Kelly, moved to a different city so, technically, could no longer stay on council. He held this from the public until outed. He's gone now.
Now there's some new drama at the top, this time concerning the police chief.
Mill Creek is a great city, but its politicians lately have stained the bedroom community's image. They make Edmonds look good. Here's a story from Mill Creek Beacon Editor Emily Gilbert on former Police Chief Greg Elwin, the latest to fall.
The City opened a formal investigation into former Mill Creek Police Chief Greg Elwin for a host of allegations, including associating with people with a criminal reputation, not controlling his temper, using his badge for personal gain, and "incident(s) involving moral turpitude."
It began when the Mill Creek Police Officers Guild sent a letter to City Manager Michael Ciaravino on Jan. 17 notifying him of the no-confidence vote. The Beacon obtained the guild's letter through a public records request.
"There are many reasons for this vote, but our overarching concerns include low morale under his leadership, a lack of honesty and integrity, poor management of resources, a lack of care for officer well-being and welfare, a disregard for bargaining rights and retaliation for union involvement, unpredictability in mood and work expectations, and simply being difficult to work with," according to the letter from Jesse Mack and Steve Smith, president and vice president of the guild, respectively.
Their letter said they had discussed their concerns with Elwin but had seen no "meaningful change." They also offered to give Ciaravino specific examples that led to their no-confidence vote.
"Our membership fears that this vote may result in retaliation from Elwin, so we are sending the results of this vote directly to you, and not Elwin," the guild's letter said. They finished by saying they expected the city manager to investigate any claims of retaliation if they were to occur.
Later that day, Ciaravino wrote back to Mack and Smith, letting them know he had sent a copy of their letter to Elwin and that he had placed the former chief on administrative leave.
Then-deputy police chief Scott Eastman sent an email notifying colleagues that Ciaravino had appointed him acting police chief the same day.
The City made no public announcement of the change of leadership.
The city manager also sent the guild's letter about the no-confidence vote to Mayor Pam Pruitt, Mayor Pro-Tem Brian Holtzclaw, and the rest of the City Council, on Jan. 17.
When asked if they knew about the police chief's leave for the Beacon's story published March 6, multiple council members said they did not know about the situation or suggested speaking with the city manager. Councilmember Vignal was the only person to not respond to the Beacon's questions.
Ciaravino sent a follow-up email to Mack and Smith on Jan. 21, writing that the City had begun a preliminary inquiry into the guild's concerns to see if they needed to be investigated further.
The City hired attorney Kimberly Gearity to handle the preliminary inquiry, Ciaravino said in his follow-up email to the guild representatives. He asked Mack and Smith to meet with him and the City's lawyer on Jan. 24.
According to her website, Gearity has experience with employment law and human resources. Her practice is based in Mount Vernon.
On Feb. 6, Ciaravino wrote to Elwin again, explaining the City's initial inquiry had found enough evidence to begin a formal investigation. The Beacon also obtained the letter through a public records request.
In his Feb. 6 letter to Elwin, Ciaravino said allegations against the former police chief included:
-Personally associating with "persons who demonstrate recurring involvement with violations of state or federal laws or who have a reputation in the community or with the police department for present involvement in criminal behavior, as you knew, or reasonably should have known of such criminal activity";
-"Dishonest and disgraceful conduct" that negatively impacted his relationship with the police department;
-Using his status as a member of the police department in a way that "could reasonably be perceived as an attempt to gain influence or authority for non-department business or activity";
-"Wrongful or unlawful" use of his authority, official position, or ID or badge for personal gain or "some improper purpose";
-"Inappropriate use, misuse or mismanagement of police department resources";
-"Discourteous, disrespectful or discriminatory" treatment of a member of the public, the police department or the City;
-Failure to "engage tactfully" in his comments and on the job;
-Failure to "control (his) temper and exercise the utmost patience and discretion";
-Conduct that was "unbecoming" of a member of the police department;
-Being "untruthful or knowingly make false, misleading or malicious statements that are reasonably calculated to harm the reputation, authority or official standing" of the police department, its members, or of the City;
-"Making disparaging remarks" or engaging in conduct that disrupted or impaired the efficiency of the police department, or that would "tend to discredit any of its members";
-"Failure to observe or violating police department safety standards and safe working practices";
-Failure to maintain a level of conduct in Elwin's "personal affairs that reflects a high standard of ethical and moral behavior"; and
-Engaging "in incident(s) involving moral turpitude" that impaired his ability to perform as a law enforcement officer, or that "causes the police department to be brought into disrepute."
Ciaravino directed Elwin not to speak with anyone other than an attorney, the investigator, his health care provider, law enforcement conducting an investigation, or a clergyperson, about the matters. He will remain on paid administrative leave until further notice.
The city manager also directed Elwin to contact Eastman to surrender his gun and badge and to bring a signed copy of the letter in a sealed bag to Eastman. Then Eastman was to give the letter to Ciaravino.
Elwin was also directed not to engage in any City activities, enter City premises, or access his City email or other electronic records.
He was also asked to "refrain from any action which could be construed as retaliation against any person who has complained about (him) or who has offered any information (about him)," such as City employees or union members.
The City hired Jennifer Parda-Aldrich, an attorney with Sebris Busto James law firm, as a third-party neutral investigator. The firm is based in Bellevue and specializes in employment law. Email communication between Ciaravino and Elwin showed the former police chief was scheduled to be interviewed by Parda-Aldrich on Feb. 25.
The Beacon reached out to Elwin for comment on the allegations against him.
"I am under written directive from the city to not discuss this on going case, so I am unable to talk with you about it at this time," Elwin wrote in a text message to the Beacon on April 3.
Kevin Giboney, the president of the Mill Creek Chamber of Commerce, spoke with the Beacon about Elwin.
Elwin's LinkedIn profile said he serves as a board member for the chamber, but a communications person said Elwin is no longer on the board.
"He came in and had to make some changes that brought the police department into the modern age, and a lot of that was to improve the visibility with the community. A lot of times change is hard, and I think a lot of this could be a symptom," Giboney said.
He highlighted community activities the police department engaged in under Elwin's leadership like the Chief for a Day program, their booth at the Mill Creek Festival, Trunk or Treat, and Elwin's involvement with the Mill Creek Kiwanis Club and with local high school students as some of the ways the former police chief improved the department's relationship with the community.
Giboney added that he did not know the specifics of the allegations against Elwin.
The City told the Beacon there are more relevant records, but that they would be given in installments due to the size of the requests.
Elwin was sworn in as police chief in 2016. Former City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto, who was fired in 2018 after an investigation into her misconduct, hired Elwin from Thurston County Sheriff's Office, where he had worked for 21 years. He was also elected as the president of the Snohomish County Sheriff and Police Chiefs Association in 2016 and was still in that role in September 2019.