Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Chief’s controversy reveals an undercurrent of mistrust

Post by Brian O'Neill on May 10, 2011 at 9:38 pm with 9 Comments »
June 12, 2013 3:21 pm

In my two previous columns I discussed the controversy surrounding Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell’s failure to disclose embarassing information regarding an Amber Alert in the Zina Linnik murder investigation. There was much discussion, prompting this third blog on the topic.

Initially, I made the argument that the chief should be held accountable for his actions, rather than reverting to “forgive and forget,” as some op-ed writers suggested. Following several Trib articles, which appeared to pave the way for the chief’s speedy exit, I followed up by changing tack to prevent what I felt was overkill. I took this stance because I believed it was fair, balanced and based on my general understanding of the criminal justice work environment in which I have spent my adult life.

Many of you disagreed. Those that chose to dispute my attempt to mitigate the situation did so with passion and conviction. That certainly got my attention.Although this exchange in no way should be construed as an accurate poll of public opinion, it was clear that the lack of trust in the leadership of TPD can not be ignored. Though I remain convinced that the underlying issue was an error in judgment that has been adequately addressed, it would be disingenuous to continue pushing this viewpoint on readers who do not share my experiences and relationships.

This has been yet another reminder that the relationship between police officers and the citizens we are sworn to protect is fragile. It requires regular and open communication to maintain its integrity. If breached by deception, this relationship requires a disproportionate amount of effort to repair. In this case TPD should make every effort to repair the public trust in a timely and effective manner.

I hope I provided some answers, but in this case you provided better questions.

Leave a comment Comments → 9
  1. Your best writing yet. Reiterates the most important aspect-attempting to re-create trust between the police departments and those they protect and serve….

  2. Dear Brian,

    There’s really no other way to restore trust between the public and TPD except through their termination or resignation.

    Mark Lindquist, Pierce County Prosecutor has clearly stated that Both Chief Ramsdell and public relations officer Mark Fulgham will be placed on Pierce Counties, “Brady” list. Being placed on this list, (based on the Chiefs and Fulgham’s admitted own statements of dishonesty) means that they cannot possibly continue to serve in their positions of great public trust and that their continued employment violates public policy based on current law.

    There are still lingering questions as to why the post-incident report failed to mention the delayed Amber Alert. Was it in the initial report? If so, was it redacted and at who’s request? Was Adhahn’s confession about the time of death coerced? If so, at who’s request?

    Will you apply for the Chief’s position when it becomes available? Do you know of someone who would be a good replacement?

    So many questions, so little time.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    Yid,

    I will agree with you on one point–that if the chief were to step down that might be one way to restore the public trust in TPD. But I’m afraid you got your facts wrong regarding Brady, a legal term referring to the ability to impeach a witness’ testimony in trial because of demonstrated prior deception. The opinion of the prosecutor, after the TNT approached him, was that it could be possible to impeach the chief in court using the Brady precedent. Their statements, or lack thereof, could certainly be construed as dishonest. As to whether they are fit to serve the public, that is not under the purview of Brady. It’s a matter for the public. In short, you.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  4. Yid, lol think Brian forgot he blogs under the “opinion” page….and I happen to agree with your opinion that if they are placed on the “Brady” list, they cannot function in their current capacities successfully. One only has to look at the recent prosecution in Bonney Lake of watercraft homicide. “Not Guilty” was the verdict. Both officers who were first responders had their credibility shredded. One “resigned” on October 23rd 2010(allowing their department to close the investigation and continue to receive state funds for the speed emphasis traps they run), and the other admitted to falsifying time cards, but wasn’t sanctioned in any way. However, it did shred both of their credibility at the criminal trial. Whether a homicide charge could have ever been proven(intent) versus manslaughter is a different issue; but what it obvious is the fact that the jury knew that both officers that were set to testify(only one did after this came to light) were liars and had no credibility. That creates an understandable issue for a jury…….don’t know what the answer is in this situation, sounds like Ramsdell was a good cop before he became Chief; but it seems that he has reverted to “protecting” his officers versus being honest and protecting the public he is supposed to serve. Whether he should step down, get terminated, get suspended for 30 days or 180 days or, or, or I don’t know….

  5. Earth_watch says:

    Brian, I appreciate that you now grasp why your previous blog (which seemed to suggest that maintaining the moral of the police is more important than public trust) received harsh reactions from readers… however I’m still stunned by your statement that you continue to believe Ramsdell’s actions were “…an error in judgment that has been adequately addressed…” No, his actions were a deliberate cover-up for four years with only in a letter of reprimand as punishment – - this is not appropriate consequences for his actions, considering the consequences his actions have thrust upon us.

    In one of your comments, you’d said: “Did he leave out a pertinent fact? Yes. Was there a compelling reason to do so?” NO! There is never a reason (no matter how “compelling”) for an inside cover-up to be acceptable. And, anyway, if you’re going to suggest there’s some mysterious unknown reason for his actions, then please do tell!

    You’re welcome to support Ramsdell as he goes through this tough time, since this is not going to be swept under the rug… I’m glad the public expects better from our Police Chief, as you should, too. Frankly the recent rally of support for Ramsdell is only bringing more attention to his actions and the public’s anger… and only helping focus on him instead of all those involved who should also be being brought to task.

  6. Dear Brian,

    Without disregarding the import and consequences of Brady v. Maryland1 and Giglio v. United States,2 this article proposes that it should be the public policy of law enforcement agencies that untruthful conduct by a law enforcement agency employee has a most damaging effect on the day-to-day efficient and effective service of policing. Moreover, the use of untruthful statements to avoid disciplinary action further undermines the efficient and effective service expected of police departments. Truthfulness by employees is not only an issue of witness credibility in a court of law; it is the fundamental nature of law enforcement service and strikes to the core of the ability to provide appropriate service. As a result, untruthful conduct must be met with the most serious of disciplinary action: termination.

    Source: http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=2163&issue_id=82010

    Unless Chief Ramsdell resigns or is terminated, Chief Ramsdell will be the only Chief still serving in his position of trust after being untruthful and while on the TPD Brady list. Perhaps, you know of another Chief in a similar circumstance?

  7. Earth_watch says:

    I inadvertently had a few typos in my previous post. The first paragraph should be:

    “Brian, I appreciate that you now grasp why your previous blog (which seemed to suggest that maintaining the morale of the police is more important than public trust) received harsh reactions from readers… however I’m still stunned by your statement that you continue to believe Ramsdell’s actions were “…an error in judgment that has been adequately addressed…” No, his actions were a deliberate cover-up for four years with only a letter of reprimand as punishment – - this is not appropriate consequences for his actions, considering the consequences his actions have thrust upon us.”

    Unlike City Manager Anderson’s use of the word, the typos really were “unintentional”… that word cannot be applied to Ramsdell’s deliberate actions, though.

    Kind of ironic that my mistake was using the word “moral” for “morale”, though. Having morals within the TPD should supersede maintaining “morale”… It shouldn’t have to be one or the other, though, since good morals (sans cover-ups) should boost morale, anyway.

  8. Earth_watch says:

    From a different article: an officer was fired for falsifying a report regarding destroying a few cases of confiscated Lite Beer when he instead gave it to a colleague… and the other officer who, who had accepted the beer, resigned… obviously this was not in Tacoma or it would have been covered up to maintain the morale of the department.

    http://www.thenewstribune.com/2011/05/12/1662645/tenn-officer-appeals-firing-over.html

    You know, it’s really too bad if Ramsdell is a great guy, and he very well may have done a lot for the TPD… so it’s doubly sad that he put himself, his department and our city in this position, sullying his reputation. putting the entire department in question and the city in jeopardy. But, unfortunately, that’s what he did, and no matter what he’s done in the past and how good a guy he still is, this situation is inexcusable. I can’t understand why his fellow officers aren’t calling for his resignation since by them indicating this cover-up was acceptable and forgivable, it places mistrust on the whole department, every previously written report and all prior practices.

  9. Earth_watch says:

    I guess I’m just chatting with myself on these comments, at this point, but there’s something still nagging here… and I realized it’s personified right in the headline: “Chief’s controversy reveals an undercurrent of mistrust”.

    That headline suggests the current public anger is stemming primarily from previous betrayals resulting in overreaction from residual distrust. No. Regardless of the Brame tragedy and other past TPD indiscretions, we are not overreacting here because of those issues. No matter what history or what city this happened in, we should be as outraged as we are by the present Chief’s actions on its own… and outraged that in another city, Ramsdell and other would have likely been fired immediately and should be… especially here, considering our city’s history.

    So, even if there is residual mistrust carry-over, that is not what’s causing excess anger at the Chief’s actions, however it does certainly add to our double disappointment at (once again) the lack of corrective action after learning about it. What an embarrassing moment in Tacoma’s history… once again being lied to, once again having an opportunity to act swiftly and to change the climate in Tacoma, but instead once again doing next to nothing thus defining, staining and stymieing this city that much deeper under a sad, mistrustful, hopeless fog.

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