Edmonds mayor, council knew of candidate's past | Letter to the Editor
Last updated 12/20/2020 at 10:22am
Mayor Nelson and City Council:
This letter is a follow-up to my Dec. 8, 2020, correspondence. As noted, the original remarks were brief. It was based upon my learning of the court documents that provided information that should make it irresponsible to consider the proposed candidate to be the chief of police of our city.
As a longtime resident, as well as in my case professionally, there is concern about the city's actions and that the law is not being adhered to properly. Not to make any allegation, but to clarify what investigative steps were taken by the city, as it appears items were not discovered or disclosed.
Were those making recommendations to the mayor and City Council aware of the relevant information during the interview and confirmation process?
Assuming the best, one would think the background information was not in the city's possession when the mayor made decisions, and when his advisory groups offered their input.
Now we are aware the U.S. District Court trial document was available and outlined enough information to each member of the City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 8, or prior. A prudent course of action should have caused concern and reservations, thus delaying the council's accelerated proceeding.
In a review of the U.S. District Court trial document (Case No. C08-1107-MJP) regarding the city of Arlington, reflective of the testimony, four items in the court document stand out.
The transcripts identified two adult domestic violence incidents and one omission of that fact under oath. It also identified employment as a municipal officer, which was found to be a dismissal after only four months. This information should all have been available from the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.
Required information, such as the admitted domestic violence incidents and dismissal from Seattle Police based on aggressive interaction, are to be documented, and available to the city before moving forward. It is a requirement under the Washington statute.
Domestic violence stands in complete contrast to the values and responsibilities of a peace officer.
The public will never trust an officer, let alone a chief, with domestic violence history. If any incident appears in the record, any candidate would be disqualified from being hired.
This requirement is compulsory under Edmonds police and Washington state hiring models and is an automatic disqualifier for peace officer employment as codified by the state statute.
The 2004 legislation required agencies to adopt or use the model policy and was subsequently promulgated by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC).
This legislation stems from an incident when Tacoma's police chief killed his wife and then himself in front of their two children.
WASPC Model Policy and Edmonds Police Department automatic disqualifier: Although there are several automatic disqualifiers, one or more being relevant includes, "Admission(s) of any act of domestic violence as defined by law, committed as an adult."
A chief of police should always be held to the highest level of ethics, reliability, stability, and experience.
For that reason, the city must undertake an intensive level of due diligence in the hiring process. Typically, it is a professional third-party firm that vets a chief nominee.
Washington state statutes on peace officer hiring take the hiring of a chief seriously. Somewhat like a top-secret security clearance, the person must be well-vetted, interviewed, and have significant background research completed, generating a finding report of a vast number of pages going into substantial detail.
The Arlington court case should have been identified early and vetted. For example, we understand that Arlington's police records unit staff were not contacted before the confirmation vote, but only after the confirmation.
This suggests a qualified professional organization may not have been used in the background check. To quote just a portion of the WASPC on background investigation (10.2) "... One of the most important aspects of selection is the background investigation. A comprehensive background investigation, conducted by competent investigators, is very beneficial in determining the most qualified candidates for selection."
One other item that may be of concern pertains to the WASPC standard outlining process. If an agency is aware that an officer may have provided untruthful responses in a court proceeding or official sworn documents, there are specific legal requirements as to reporting of same.
The candidate appears to have acknowledged under oath that he had not disclosed one of his domestic violent acts. Because of this, the city of Edmonds may need to disclose this fact to the Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office to comply with Brady v. Maryland and U.S. v. Olsen.
Further, the department's accreditation itself could be called into question due to the shortcomings in the backgrounding process and the City Council's confirmation of its police chief.
Our residents must have confidence in all members of the Edmonds Police Department, especially its leadership. After all, we are a city of over 42,000 residents, and we have a state ferry and train system among our critical infrastructure.
Based on the candidate's background, was incident command considered, such as active shooter, armed barricaded suspect with a hostage, or other serious crime investigative experience taken into consideration?
The Edmonds Police have some of the best personnel statistics. The department is well diverse in its gender, racial, and ethnic makeup. If there are areas needing improvement, they should be addressed.
To our knowledge, neither the mayor nor City Council have articulated any specific, pressing changes that are needed. There presently exists tremendous public confidence in our department and in its Acting Chief of Police.
Our residents are not looking for any significant changes, but instead appreciate stability. Personally, working side-by-side with chiefs and directors of various nationalities and color in the United States and worldwide, each brings different perspectives. However, it is the individual's personal experience and integrity that makes him or her a leader in all cases.
This selection of a police chief is about the qualifications of a person, who they are, how they act, how they will manage a police department, training, experience, knowledge, scaled incident command, integrity, and quality of interaction with residents.
Any nomination put forward cannot lack credibility. Members within the department may well have, or are already having, trust and confidence challenges with this individual.
The Edmonds police's hiring policy codified by state statute prohibits hiring an individual who has a personal adult history of domestic violence. There is no waiver!
Edmonds could make any necessary changes and excel with the acting chief based on the past number of months' accolades and accomplishments. Regardless, in the end, the Edmonds chief needs to be a person of equal or more significant experience in comparison to our last chief and must be of the highest moral character.
Acting Chief Jim Lawless certainly more than qualifies.
Several questions about what information was available and when should be addressed should b disclosed because of the actions taken. The bottom line, a person selected as chief of police or police officer requires integrity as outlined by our state Legislature's actions and that of the WASPC. Therefore, we ask:
1. Were facts learned from the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission regarding current and prior training and certification? What were those facts?
2. Did the candidate divulge any of these relevant findings or acts to any city official in writing or verbally?
3. Did the background report or reporting by other persons of responsibility bring any of this forward?
4. When did anyone in their official city capacity know any of these findings/ information?
5. Did any of the interviewing groups or examining psychologist know of any of the relevant information?
6. Did the councilmembers have this information available to them when interviewing the candidate to discuss these significant actions?
7. Did the mayor and council have any of this information at the time of the candidate's confirmation?
8. What information was provided to the Human Resources director while conducting the background investigation? Did the Human Resources director use a professional investigating firm?
9. Why were the Edmonds police disqualifiers not used in the selection process?
10. Why was there not more transparency and explanation offered to the public in this hire, especially after the April 9 announcement of the acting chief's appointment?
We look forward to a full explanation from our city leaders. If this matter is not taken seriously, we need to ask the Washington State Attorney General and the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney to review these findings and practices, especially those regarding the admitted domestic violence, omitting facts under oath, and the dismissal from Seattle Police Department.
Also, how does the council offer a conditional confirmation? Please point to the legal determination of how the process of "conditional confirmation" works or is as provided for by law?
Thank you for your attention to this issue. As you know, much of this is in the media, and many of our residents have these or similar concerns.
Finally, based on a candidate whose action has automatically disqualified them, how can the City offer employment to the individual.
Jay Grant IPM is a long-term resident of Edmonds. He is serving his 11th year as director and secretary general of the INTERPORTPOLICE. In addition, he serves as the executive chair of the Morrone 9/11 Center for Counterterrorism and Security, and is the national legislative adviser to Crime Stoppers USA and Crime Stoppers Global.