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Tacoma: 6th council member can’t recall being told sleeping cop delayed Zina’s Amber Alert

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on May 1, 2011 at 6:01 am | 26 Comments »
May 1, 2011 12:33 am

Former City Councilwoman Julie Anderson said Saturday she has “absolutely no recollection” of being told two years ago that Tacoma police spokesman Mark Fulghum fell asleep after he’d been asked to issue an Amber Alert when Zina Linnik disappeared in 2007.

Julie Anderson

She added that if she had heard such information, she would have taken action.

“If I had been made aware that what actually happened — that an officer fell asleep and caused the delay of the Amber Alert, and that that had all been misrepresented in public — I would have acted, yes,” she told me in phone call Saturday morning.

Julie Anderson is the sixth member of the 2009 city council who could not corroborate statements made Friday by City Manager Eric Anderson that both he and City Council members knew about the reason for the Amber Alert’s delay since 2009 (Here’s our story from Saturday about what other council members recall).

Eric Anderson told The News Tribune Friday that he and the council first learned about Fulghum’s sleep-induced delay simultaneously, during a closed-door executive session in 2009 with city attorneys. The meeting was called to discuss a legal claim against the city by the Linnik family, he said.

Eric Anderson said that during the meeting, he and the attending council members were clearly told about Fulghum, yet the information did not spark him or anyone else to take further action, such as seeking any kind of internal investigation.

That’s because there were no obvious signs of policy violations, Eric Anderson said. He added that, because executive session discussions are legally confidential, he did not feel he could use any information that emerged from them to separately launch such a probe.

The city manager’s statements are significant because they would mean that several other city officials besides himself knew for nearly two years about the true reason why the alert was delayed in the Linnik case. Until news stories in the TNT last week, police officials had previously told the press and public they had delayed issuing the alert so investigators could gather more  information to put in it.

In her phone discussion with me Saturday, Julie Anderson keenly recalled details from the 2009 executive session now in question.
“There was a letter from the (Linnik) family’s attorney that had been sent to the city, basically putting us on notice that the city was about to be sued,” she said. “It was a fairly lengthy and disturbing letter, and it described all of the hardships the family had endured and some pretty graphic details about the case. The letter is what prompted the executive session.”

Council members in attendance each received a copy of the letter to read, Julie Anderson said. Among its details, the family’s lawyer noted that Tacoma police had waited longer than what ideal practice calls for when issuing such notices, she said.

But, she added, there was no mention in the letter, or ensuing discussion, of an officer falling asleep and causing that delay.

“I don’t recall anything in that executive session where it was disclosed that an officer falling asleep delayed the Amber Alert,” Julie Anderson said. “What I recall is that the city manager saying, as disturbing as the letter was, our liability was very limited in scope, if any actually existed at all.”

(In her discussion with me, Julie Anderson was also careful to note that what she was relaying did not violate legal restraints on executive sessions because she was not revealing specific details of the meeting’s discussions.)

Julie Anderson’s version of the meeting seems to fit with recollections from five other members of the 2009 council. Each did not recall  getting any information about an officer falling asleep. Like Julie Anderson, three of them (Bill Baarsma, Connie Ladenburg and Mike Lonergan) also separately said they recalled learning about a delay in the Amber Alert — but nothing about it being caused by a sleeping officer.

(Eric Anderson said Friday it doesn’t surprise him that council members can’t recall being told about Fulghum, saying the unrecorded meeting occurred two years ago and contained a number of horrific details. )

Both Fulghum and Police Chief Don Ramsdell had previously told the public in 2007 that the Amber Alert had been delayed to gather more information and iron out discrepancies in descriptive information about the suspect’s van in Linnik’s abduction.

Recently filed court documents in the Linnik family’s wrongful death lawsuit against the city detailed that Fulghum had fallen asleep after receiving an Amber Alert request at 4 a.m. on July 5, 2007. The alert wasn’t issued until six hours later.

Last week, after TNT reporter Adam Lynn revealed in a story the true reason for the Amber Alert delay, Ramsdell apologized for not previously telling the newspaper what happened. The city manager also defended Ramsdell and Fulghum, primarily blaming the delayed alert on a since-revised policy that made Fulghum the lone Tacoma cop authorized to issue Amber Alerts.

The matter sparked the department to change its policy so that any officer ranked sergeant or above can now issue such alerts, but no internal investigations or disciplinary action were taken.

Earlier this week, after some members of the  current council raised concerns to the city manager about the news stories, city officials held another executive session about the Linnik case.

The council emerged from that closed-door meeting Tuesday, with Mayor Marilyn Strickland announcing the public trust had been violated by the police department’s misleading information. But, other than the council telling the city manager that better public communications were needed, Strickland joined Eric Anderson to defend police and declare no further action was necessary.

Strickland also emphasized that the delayed alert did not contribute to Linnik’s murder, citing sd support the confession from the man convicted for killing the girl (Terapon Adhahn has said he killed Linnik shortly after abducting her).

This week, after the TNT asked for Fulghum’s pay records on the day he delayed the alert, the city manager took action in the case. Eric Anderson said he learned from responsive documents to the TNT’s request that Fulghum was being paid extra and on “standby duty” at the time he fell asleep.

The city manager said Ramsdell never told him that before, so he reprimanded the chief.  Eric Anderson also directed an internal investigation of Fulghum, and the mayor separately called for an outside review of the entire Linnik investigation.

Just as other members of the ’09 council also told me, Julie Anderson said Saturday she first learned the details about Fulghum falling asleep from reading the TNT’s stories last week.

“My first reaction was one of great surprise and disappointment,” she said.

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