After a closed door meeting for more than an hour today, Tacoma City Council members stood with their city manager, telling reporters that misleading information from city police officials about the Zina Linnik investigation four years ago has damaged the city’s credibility.
“We had a long conversation with the city manager and we made it clear to him that communications need to be better.”
But, speaking on behalf of the council at large, Strickland added the matter has been “thoroughly investigated and vetted,” saying that no further personnel or disciplinary action needs to be taken to restore the city’s relationship with its citizens.
“We repair (public trust) by moving forward,” Strickland said. “Looking back at what’s past isn’t going to change anything. It’s not going to bring Zina Linnik back to us.”
The council called today’s executive session with City Manager Eric Anderson, after The News Tribune revealed in news stories last week that Police Chief Don Ramsdell and department spokesman Mark Fulghum misled reporters about why it took the department nearly 12 hours to issue an Amber Alert after Linnik disappeared in 2007.
Court documents recently filed in a wrongful death lawsuit brought against the city by the murdered girl’s family stated that Fulghum had fallen asleep early on July 5, 2007, after being requested to issue an Amber Alert in the case at 4 a.m. The alert ultimately wasn’t issued until about six hours later, at 10 a.m. on July 5. Linnik disappeared about 9:40 p.m. on July 4.
In response to reporters’ questions about the delay, Ramsdell and Fulghum said in 2007 the department postponed issuing the alert so detectives could gather more information to use in it, and to iron out discrepancies in descriptive information.
In the lawsuit, Linnik’s family contends that the delay might have contributed to Linnik’s death.
Ramsdell and Anderson met with News Tribune reporter Adam Lynn last week after he reported the new details about why the alert was delayed. The chief apologized for not telling the newspaper the true reason for the delay. Anderson defended Ramsdell and denied that the chief’s actions amounted to lying.
Both men also defended Fulghum, saying the police department opted against punishing him for what was considered a “system failure.” Fulghum, who had just finished a busy Fourth of July double-shift, was the only officer in the department authorized to issue an Amber Alert at the time – a policy that has since been changed, they said.
Several council members expressed frustrations that they only learned about the new details in the case by reading them in the press, prompting Tuesday’s closed-door meeting.
Afterward, while meeting with the press, council members flanked Strickland as she told reporters city police actions in no way played into Linnik’s death.
“We believe that’s not the case,” she said. “Police worked the case really hard and there was actually some really good police work.”
Strickland also stressed that Linnik’s convicted killer – not Tacoma police or the Amber Alert delay – is to blame for the girl’s death.
“I do want to be very, very clear about something,” she said. “There was one person responsible for the death of Zina Linnik. And that was Mr. (Terapon) Adhahn.”
Throughout her statement and in responses to questions, Strickland emphasized it was time to “move forward.” Asked if the mayor spoke for the entire council, no member spoke up to say otherwise.
“We’re united that public trust and transparency is one of the most important things in government,” Councilman Ryan Mello said later Tuesday. “We made that clear to the city manager.”
Anderson, who said he learned of the delayed Amber Alert in 2009, said today that he is “satisfied” that Ramsdell did not intentionally lie or hide details about the matter.
“I don’t believe there was a cover-up,” he said. “There wasn’t any reason to cover it up.”
He added that he will not seek to further investigate or discipline Ramsdell.
“I have satisfied myself that his error was unintentional,” Anderson said of Ramsdell. “The proper response is to move forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The chief, in turn, has decided no further investigation or discipline of Fulghum is needed either, Anderson said. He agrees with that decision.
“I don’t think it’s proper to discipline an officer who fell asleep after working 16 or 18 hours,” said Anderson, noting Fulghum was slumbering after his double-shift when he got the request to issue the alert.