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Tacoma police union’s letter to City Council blasts citizen volunteer’s criticisms of chief in Zina case

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on May 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
May 13, 2011 12:22 pm

The new president of Tacoma’s rank-and-file police officers’ union this week sent a “letter of concern” to the mayor and city council, denouncing a citizen volunteer on a police review panel who publicly chastised Chief Don Ramsdell last week for “lying” in his public statements about the Zina Linnik case.

In his letter dated May 10, Det. Terry Krause, the recently seated president of Tacoma Police Union Local 6, wrote that by his assessment, Citizen Review Panel member Trisha King Stargel “is not capable of performing her duties as a member of the panel.”

“If it was simply the fact that she exceeded her authority as a member of the panel, that would be one thing,” Krause’s letter states. “What Trisha King-Stargel did however was arguably both unprofessional and unethical; and to be blunt, grandstanding. In my opinion, the use of the panel meeting as a bully pulpit was wholly inappropriate and calls her judgment or lack thereof into question.”

Krause’s letter stops short of requesting that the council remove King Stargel from the review panel.  Instead, it asks council members to listen to the recording of the May 3 meeting and “decide for yourselves if Trisha King-Stargel should be retained as a panel member.”

But the letter clearly implies the police union wants King Stargel off of the board.

“Based upon her actions and bias, I am not comfortable with her having input into any of the policy decisions affecting day to day activities of Local 6 members,” Krause wrote. “It is my position that her actions have brought the credibility and professionalism of the panel into question.”

Reached by phone at the police union’s office, Krause declined comment today.

In a written response sent to The News Tribune today, King Stargel, who is in the final year of her tenure on the board, said she believes Krause “is in error to state that I acted unprofessionally or ethically.”

“One of the stated purposes of the Human Rights Commission for creating the Citizen Review Panel was to provide a means to `improve communication between TPD and the community,’” she added.

Krause’s letter about King Stargel was among three he sent to the council this week.  The others included a letter of support from Local 6 for Ramsdell as chief, and a letter introducing himself as the union’s new president. The letter about King Stargel came in reaction to public statements King Stargel made to Ramsdell and City Manager Eric Anderson at the Citizen Review Panel meeting on May 3.

King Stargel, a retired 24-year police officer for the Honolulu and Kent police departments who now works as a Seattle University criminal justice lecturer and a private police consultant, told Ramsdell she believed he “lied to the citizens” due to his changing accounts about why an Amber Alert was delayed in the Zina abduction case in 2007.

King Stargel, who also noted during the meeting that she sits on a state board charged with revoking police licenses, suggested the chief’s actions amounted to the kind of misconduct that gets lower-ranking officers fired and their state police licenses yanked.  Two other members of the citizen panel disagreed with King Stargel about the setting for her comments, saying the issue fell outside of the panel’s purview.

“I am not saying that Chief Ramsdell lied to the panel,” King Stargel responded. “I’m saying he lied to the citizens. And as a representative of the citizens, that is the task that I’m looking at.”

In separate interviews today, Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Councilman Marty Campbell said they appreciated hearing the union’s viewpoint, but added the council likely won’t take any action in response.

“I am going to take it as just a document we’ll keep on file,”  Strickland said of the letter.

“In this situation, it was obviously a personal and very emotional issue to (King Stargel), and I understand that,” Strickland added, noting she has yet to listen to the recording of the May 3 meeting.  “I do think it is outside of the purview of what the Citizen Review Panel was supposed to do, but it’s not going to result in any action to take her off the board or anything like that.”

Campbell said he also hadn’t fully listened to recordings of the meeting, nor did he completely know the context of King Stargel’s remarks or whether they were appropriate given the setting.

“I appreciated the letter and I can see where they’re coming from,” Campbell said of the union’s letter. “But I think as a council, we need to be open and tolerant of criticisms and I wouldn’t want to censor someone’s opinions.”

Councilman Jake Fey added today that, as one of the four members on the council’s appointments committee, he has no plans to remove King Stargel.

“I certainly don’t intend to bring it up,” said Fey, who noted he had listened to King Stargel’s recorded remarks. “She’s entitled to her own perspective about it.  I can understand their taking umbrage to her comments. But she’s in her position. She sees her role as she sees her role. I’m not going to get into a debate about what her role is supposed to be.”

Empaneled in 2007 in the aftermath of the Chief David Brame murder-suicide scandal, the council-appointed Citizen Review Panel drew controversy even before it began. The council’s approval to establish citizen oversight of the police department in June 2005 was opposed by Ramsdell and the labor unions that represent most police employees.

The review panel system that was ultimately put into practice is a watered-down version of a plan first envisioned.  Other than providing advice and suggestions on general department policies, procedures and complaint trends, the review panel has no real authority nor any say on individual officer disciplinary cases.

King Stargel was among the first of five nominees selected from 27 applicants for the new board in late 2006.

“It’s a good group,” then-Mayor Bill Baarsma said of the panel’s inaugural members. “I believe they are all fair-minded and come with no hidden agenda.”

But Krause’s letter this week suggests otherwise.

Calling King Stargel’s public statements a “prepared speech,” the letter takes issue with references she made about her role on the state police academy’s so-called decertification board charged with reviewing officer license revocation cases. The references  “raise questions as to her motivation and displayed a fundamental lack of understanding regarding this issue and police work in general,” the letter states.

Krause also criticized King Stargel for relying “upon a one-sided sole source of information to form a conclusion; instead she should have waited until all the facts are known especially considering this issue is part of pending litigation.”

King Stargel noted in her response today her “comments regarding my belief and concern that Chief Ramsdell lied regarding the delay of the Amber Alert in the Linnik case came out of conversations with other citizens of Tacoma.”

“As a citizen of the City myself, I feel I have the privilege and right to speak out on the point,” she added. “As a member of the Citizen Review Panel, I felt it important to raise with Chief Ramsdell the narrow question of how do I trust his word going forward in the joint work the Panel does regarding police department policy.”

King Stargel’s public criticisms of Ramsdell May 3 came after the chief apologized to The News Tribune last month for not publicly disclosing part of the reason why it took his department 12 hours to issue an Amber Alert for Zina in 2007.

Part of the delay resulted because Mark Fulghum, the only Tacoma officer then-authorized to disseminate the special notification for the department, fell back to sleep after a sergeant called and requested him to issue the alert.

Fulghum, who was on “standby duty” at the time, had gone to bed after working a Fourth of July double-shift and then taking an Advil PM,  according to details revealed last month in court records and interviews. The chief and Fulghum previously had told the public that the alert was delayed due to necessary police work.

Since the new revelations emerged about the Amber Alert’s delay, Anderson, the city manager, has defended Ramsdell and Fulghum, saying he did not believe their actions amounted to lying.

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