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UPDATED: Tacoma: Police union warns city about hiring outside investigator in Zina case

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on June 20, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
June 21, 2011 11:44 am

Original post:

Tacoma’s police union is demanding that a planned third-party review of the police department’s handling of the Zina Linnik case four years ago must first be bargained with the union — or the city will face legal action.

In a letter sent June 8 to City Manager Eric Anderson, Tacoma Police Union Local 6 Vice President Christopher Tracy contends the third-party review of the Zina case called for by Mayor Marilyn Strickland last month is subject to negotiation with the police guild.

“Hiring an outside consultant to perform any work in this context – essentially an after-action review – is work that has traditionally been conducted within the Police Department by members of our bargaining unit,“ Tracy wrote.

“As such, the City’s hiring of a third party to conduct this probe, without bargaining with Local 6 to do so, would amount to an unlawful removal of the Union’s work to a contract employee outside the bargaining unit, a change both in working conditions and past practice. These are mandatory conditions of bargaining.”

In May, Strickland announced her choice to conduct the third-party probe as Mark S. Simpson, a law enforcement consultant who specializes in child abduction cases. Among other experience during his 30-plus years in law enforcement, Simpson led an Arlington (Tex.) Police Department task force in charge of investigating the unsolved 1996 abduction and homicide of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, whose case led to development of the AMBER Alert.

The formal proposal “to engage a third-party investigator to conduct an objective and unbiased review” is set to go before the city council on Tuesday.

To pay for the probe, the council will consider spending up to $50,000 from the council’s contingency fund. The proposal requires that upon completion, the investigator will “submit a report to the City Council that will be made available to the public.”

The measure lands on the council’s agenda two weeks later than when Anderson said last month it would be ready for consideration.

Since June 8, The News Tribune has repeatedly asked Strickland for details of the third-party probe’s contract. The mayor has responded that the city’s legal department was still working out details.

Asked specifically Friday what the hold up was, Strickland responded: “There is no hold up.  Mark Simpson has a copy of the contract and will send it to us after he signs it.”

Simpson did not return a message left for him Monday.

Strickland worked for several weeks with the city attorney’s office to select Simpson to lead the third-party probe, after she and other city officials initially had said no further investigation of the Zina case was warranted.

In April, The News Tribune revealed new details from recently filed court records about how the city’s Amber Alert for Zina was partially delayed because Officer Mark Fulghum fell back to sleep instead of issuing the alert as requested.

Police Chief Don Ramsdell later apologized to the newspaper for not divulging those details during his department’s previous public statements about why it took 12 hours to issue the Amber Alert. The information about Fulghum also was omitted from the department’s formal after-action report on the Zina case.

In light of the new case details, the City Council met privately in April, but announced through Strickland it would take no further action in the matter. Anderson also said he would not pursue any disciplinary action against either Fulghum or Ramsdell.

But after the TNT filed a request for Fulghum’s pay records from the day of the delayed Amber Alert – records that showed he was on “stand-by duty” at the time of his medicated slumber – Anderson announced he had reprimanded the chief and would conduct an internal investigation of Fulghum.

Anderson and Strickland also said the city would seek an outside investigation of the entire Zina case.

In the police union’s letter to Anderson, Tracy objected to the city’s hiring of any outside investigator without first negotiating the issue with Local 6.

The letter specifically requested the city bargain the issue, notify Tracy to set up those negotiations and “acknowledge (the city) will not hire an outside third party to conduct the work at this time.”

Tracy also warned that “failure to contact me in a timely fashion will leave Local 6 with no choice but to initiate the appropriate lawful actions.”

Updated 10:05 a.m:

In response to the union’s letter,  Anderson replied with a letter on June 10, saying he had directed the issue to city labor negotiators.

“I know that this is an important and sensitive issue to Local 6 and as such I have referred the matter to the City’s Human Resources Department Labor Relations Office to ensure a prompt and appropriate response as provided for in the current collective bargaining agreement and RCW 41.56, the State’s Collective Bargaining Law,” Anderson wrote.

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