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Fife PD’s eruption of bad behavior has heads shaking

Post by Cheryl Tucker on May 25, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
May 25, 2011 5:22 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Night shift at the Fife Police Department apparently was quite a lively scene at times. At least one assumes that the past tense is appropriate.

According to an outside investigation, 17-year veteran Lt. Jeff Westover exposed himself on numerous occasions to a female subordinate and had sex with her once in the police station while they were working the night shift.

The woman and several other female employees also claim that Westover showed them pornographic images on his cell phone – highly inappropriate behavior by anyone in the workplace and especially a supervisor.

The investigator, an Auburn police commander, concluded that Westover may have committed indecent exposure, but that the statute of limitations for prosecution has elapsed. Besides, he said, it appears the acts “were with consent” of the woman.

But the woman told the investigator, “I couldn’t say anything.” Westover was, after all, her boss.

When she did tell someone – complaining to Lt. Doug Burrus that Westover had been sexually harassing her for nearly a decade – he didn’t follow through. For failing to report the complaint, as required, he was punished with a three-day suspension without pay.

But Westover resigned before any action could be taken against him. That means he can apply to another department with nothing negative on his record regarding the sexual harassment complaint.

The same holds true for another Fife officer. Detective Roy Shane Farnworth got drunk while on call Dec. 27 and totaled his unmarked patrol car before driving it home. His wife, a Fife police dispatcher, was his passenger. Farnworth won’t be charged with a crime – the accident happened in Tacoma and no physical evidence was taken at the time that would prove he was drunk.

Farnworth resigned earlier this month, possibly anticipating being fired. Besides the fact that he put the city in liability danger, an audit of his cases showed “numerous examples of deficiencies,” according to Fife City Manager Dave Zabell.

Fife is not a huge department, with fewer than 35 sworn officers. That magnifies this convergence of problems it is experiencing. Had the incidents become public a few months or even weeks apart, no one would be asking, “What’s going on in Fife?”

As for Farnworth, any workplace can have an employee with a drinking problem who has one very bad night. This one, however, involved someone authorized to carry a weapon who put lives in danger with his behavior.

From a workplace culture standpoint, the sexual harassment case is more problematic for Fife.  The fact that nothing was done even after a potential victim came forward indicates that Chief Brad Blackburn’s department could use a refresher course in how to respond to sexual harassment complaints.

If people weren’t reporting a supervisor’s bad behavior, it might have been because they didn’t feel as if they could. Victims need to know that if they speak up, they’ll be taken seriously.

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