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Tacoma councilwoman won’t say when she learned of cop’s delay of Amber Alert

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on May 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm | 20 Comments »
May 4, 2011 4:27 pm

As we’ve reported in recent days,  nearly every member of Tacoma’s 2009 City Council has told The News Tribune they do not recall ever being informed two years ago that an Amber Alert for Zina Linnik was delayed in 2007 because an officer awakened by a call requesting he send out the alert instead fell back to sleep.

Every council member, that is, except Lauren Walker, who had not responded to the newspaper’s requests for comment for several days.

I finally spoke with Walker yesterday afternoon and again today.  I will get to her response a bit later in this post.

First, a little context: The council members’ recollections are important because City Manager Eric Anderson has recently said that both he and the council first learned of the detail about Officer Mark Fulghum‘s sleep-induced delay during an executive session in the summer of 2009. The meeting was held to discuss a potential legal claim from Linnik’s family.

That closed-door meeting took place at least 20 months before anyone from the city publicly acknowledged the true reason for the Amber Alert’s delay.  For nearly the past four years until that recent acknowledgment, the only public reasons given by Police Chief Don Ramsdell and Fulghum have been that the alert wasn’t sent out for 12 hours because police had to gather more case details before sending it.

Only after the TNT reported details about Fulghum garnered from recently filed court records did city officials acknowledge the truth.  The revelation quickly led to an admission and apology from Ramsdell, and an about-face by Anderson, who — along with the support of the current city council — initially had said no further action needed to be taken.

A few days after the TNT requested Fulghum’s pay records for the day he delayed the alert — records that show Fulghum was on “standby” duty at the time — Anderson announced he had reprimanded Ramsdell, would investigate Fulghum and seek an outside probe of the entire Linnik investigation.

While telling the newspaper about the new course of actions last Friday, Anderson also said he first learned about Fulghum’s involvement in the delayed alert during the ’09 executive session with council members.

But later, when asked one-by-one, seven members of the 2009 council could not recall ever being made privy to those details about Fulghum during the meeting.  Those with no recollection included former members Julie Anderson, Bill Baarsma, Connie Ladenburg and Mike Lonergan, and current members Jake Fey, Spiro Manthou and Marilyn Strickland. An eighth member from the ’09 council, Rick Talbert, said he missed that particular executive session.

That left Walker as the only member who hadn’t responded.

Yesterday afternoon, when I asked Walker for her comment in person following the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting,  she read for me this brief prepared statement:

I honor the rules and importance of executive session and attorney client privilege.  This discussion took place two years ago.  As with all cases discussed in executive session, I remember some very specific details and general information of what was presented.

Beyond that, Walker declined comment.

After thinking about her response, I called Walker today and asked a different question that had nothing to do with executive sessions or their confidentiality rules. I wondered if she had read the recent News Tribune stories in which the details about Fulghum were revealed?

Why? she asked.

Because, I said, if you read them, I’d like to know if that was the first time you’d learned that Fulghum had fallen asleep and delayed the alert? (Several council members, including Fey, Talbert, Julie Anderson and Baarsma, have told me the first they became aware of those details was by reading the TNT stories).

Walker initially said nothing.

It’s a straightforward question, I said. I only need a yes or no answer.

She finally said she’d call me back with an answer after she finished a meeting she was just heading into.

A while later, Walker called back.

“Answering that question would violate the confidentiality of executive session,” she said. “I stand by my statement.”

I wondered if Walker had sought advice from the city attorney for her answer.

No, she said.

So, why do you think answering a question about a newspaper article would violate executive session confidentiality, I asked.

Again, Walker replied:

“Answering that question would violate the confidentiality of executive session. I stand by my statement.”

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