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Honesty took a nap after Zina Linnik’s murder

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on April 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
April 22, 2011 6:09 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Almost four years after the fact, the public has learned why the Tacoma Police Department took so long to put out an Amber Alert for a missing and murdered Tacoma girl: The officer asked to do it fell asleep.

The outrage isn’t the 12 hours it took to issue the alert after 12-year-old Zina Linnik was abducted on July 4, 2007. It’s the more than three years the police department took to acknowledge what happened – a coverup that deliberately misled the public and is still being soft-pedaled by City Manager Eric Anderson.

The original delay didn’t cost Zina her life: She was apparently murdered minutes after being kidnapped by Terapon Adhahn, who received a life sentence for the crime.

And the delay was excusable. At the time, the department’s policy prevented anyone but its official spokesman from ordering an Amber Alert. That spokesman, Mark Fulghum, was off-duty and asleep after a very long shift and a dose of sleep medicine. Everything depended on the human factor – one man’s fatigue derailed the entire warning system.

But what happened after is inexcusable.

Instead of forthrightly admitting what happened, Police Chief Don Ramsdell and Fulghum gave the public what amounted to a cover story – that the Amber Alert had been delayed only by necessary police work.

Neither mentioned Fulghum’s lapse. Nor did a later report on the department’s supposedly comprehensive review of the incident. The truth came out only recently in the course of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Zina’s family and after hard questioning by this newspaper’s reporters.

It is disappointing that Ramsdell – an honorable man – chose to protect an officer by deceiving the public. While that’s sometimes an impulse within police departments, Ramsdell works for the citizens of Tacoma, not his fellow officers.

But Ramsdell at least has apologized and acknowledged that what he did was wrong. Not so his boss, City Manager Eric Anderson, who continues to find no fault with Ramsdell’s action, refuses to reprimand him – and even insists that the public wasn’t misled in the first place.

On Thursday, he said he didn’t consider Ramsdell’s public statements to be lies. “He didn’t include all the information … Is this man a liar? No. Not by omission or commission.”

That itself is a misleading statement. One deceit under pressure doesn’t define an otherwise honest man as a liar. But it is blindingly obvious that the truth was suppressed – for many months – by Ramsdell’s self-serving omission.

Ramsdell and Fulghum have probably learned their lesson all too painfully at this point. But Anderson appears to have learned nothing at all about what the public deserves to be told.

Given that’s he’s their boss – the chief executive of city government – we’re more concerned about his attitude toward the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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