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Archive for June, 2012

In a wide-ranging conversation with me on Thursday, Bainbridge Island Police Guild President Bob Day and long-time guild member Lieutenant Chris Jensen described department frustrations with Chief Jon Fehlman, and a city hall management that did not take their concerns seriously.

For more than two hours over coffee in a Winslow cafe, the two lieutenants talked about their passion for policing and their complaints against Fehlman.

They described a chief who is detached from his department, rarely attending staff meetings or taking input from his lieutenants. They argued that during his tenure he hasn’t prepared a strategic plan or any goals for the department, and hasn’t accomplished any reforms. Department frustration built up until guild members felt they had no choice but to take a no-confidence vote.

The possibility of the vote was first raised about eight months ago, Day said. But city hall management thought the timing was unfavorable, so the vote was delayed. The guild met with Interim City Manager Morgan Smith 2 1/2 months ago and again expressed concerns. But she took no action. “That was the catalyst for the no-confidence vote,” Day said.

He denied that the vote was taken due to the chief’s discipline record. In fact, Lt. Jensen suggested that increased discipline in a department “can indicate lack of good guidance and leadership from people above” because without leadership from their superiors, employees can become sloppy in their work habits.

They admitted that the original agenda for the June guild meeting did not include the vote, and was amended after two lieutenants received pre-disciplinary notices on June 8. But, they said, the vote was added to the agenda because they were trying to work around the availability of voting members, not as a reaction to the pre-disciplinary notices.

The lieutenants said the main issues for them are Felman’s lack of leadership and his lack of fairness and consistency in applying rules and standards. They were not as clear about the specific charges in the no confidence letter as they were about their dissatisfaction with Fehlman’s management style in general.

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For your weekend reading, check out Bob Fortner’s informational comments (with an add by Robert Dashiell) from the public record on the credibility of Debbie Vann, who twice this week sent out false claims about the Bainbridge City attorney. Vann is a former council member, city critic and treasurer of Islanders for Collaborative Policing.  Click here for those comments.  (more…)

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This post has been revised as of 6/23 to reflect an updated Summary of Police Disciplinary Action I received from the City on Friday, 6/22. The updated document shortens former chief Haney’s years of service to five years, from 2004-2009. During those years the police department received 14 citizen complaints, and none were sustained. The department conducted 30 internal investigations with 9 sustained. The percentage of total sustained allegations of complaints and internal investigations more than doubled from Haney’s 20% to Fehlman’s 50%. 

Public records reveal that officer discipline meted out by Chief Jon Fehlman during his three-year tenure exceeds that of his predecessor, Matt Haney, particularly with respect to citizen complaints.

The City tracks complaints separately from internal investigations. In the 3 years since Fehlman became chief in 2009, there have been 6 complaints, 3 of which resulted in  sustained allegations and discipline of officers. There were 9 internal investigations filed. Of those, 4 were sustained and 3 are ongoing investigations. Officers were disciplined for theft, stalking, conduct unbecoming, and illegal recording, among other actions. Discipline included issuing letters of reprimand or accepting the officer’s resignation. (more…)

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Debbie Vann sent an email on the Trippwire over the weekend, criticizing City Attorney Will Patton for laughing and joking during a break in Joyce Ostling’s testimony. It was so false and unfair I had hard time finishing it (and I wish I hadn’t).

I sent this email to the Council this morning. I reprint it here because Gary Tripp circulates opinions that follow his own anti-government narrative and routinely ignores other points of view, such as the one below.

Dear Council,

Over the weekend, former council member Debbie Vann sent around an email via Gary Tripp’s listserv, criticizing Will Patton for his behavior at the Ostling trial.

I can’t let her false characterization of his behavior go unchallenged. I was at the trial every day but one (toward the end, when Tamara Ostling testified.) I sat directly behind the defense counsel table. Ms. Vann attended occasionally and sat on the other side of the courtroom.

Mr. Patton’s demeanor during trial was somber, attentive, and with a minimum of observable reactions to the proceedings. During breaks (and I emphasize this–only during breaks, outside the presence of the jury) I observed those at counsel table exchanging brief pleasantries from time to time, and some of them left the building together during the lunch recess. The Ostling team did the same.  (more…)

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Along with a motion to invalidate the jury’s $1 million verdict in the Ostling case, the City has also filed a motion for a new trial and a stay of enforcement of the judgment. The City argues that Police Chief Jon Fehlman, whose policies and practices were at issue on the failure-to-train claim that resulted in the verdict, was denied a fair trial while he was medically incapacitated and unable to defend himself.

Chief Fehlman was hospitalized throughout most of the trial for life-threatening pancreatitis and a heart anomaly, often so medicated he could not communicate, assist in his defense or understand the circumstances of his recovery. He was ordered by his doctors not to read emails or texts. He has been on medical leave since the day before trial began, and is still not back to work.

“Judgment was entered against the one individual who was neither able to communicate nor defend himself at trial,” according to the City’s motion. The verdict is described as “career-ending” for Fehlman.

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As expected, the City’s attorneys filed a post-trial motion in U.S. District Court yesterday, asking the Court to enter judgment in favor of the City, and invalidate the jury’s $1 million verdict for the Ostling family.

The Ostlings sued the City, Police Chief Jon Fehlman and Officer Jeff Benkert for violating Douglas Ostling’s constitutional rights when he was shot and killed by Officer Benkert in 2010. On June 1, a jury found that Officer Benkert did not violate Ostling’s constitutional rights. Nevertheless, it found that Chief Fehlman and the City failed to properly train its police officers and on that basis, it rendered the $1 million verdict in favor of the Ostlings.

This motion is not an appeal, but rather a request to the Court to set aside the jury’s verdict as a matter of law. If the motion is not granted, the City can appeal the verdict.

The City’s motion claims that the jury was given flawed instructions by the Court, due to a “last-minute change” on the failure-to train claim. The City argues that the change was made “based on misrepresentations of Plaintiff’s counsel” as to 9th Circuit precedent as well as the Plaintiff’s legal complaint. Due to these errors, the City argues, “The jury mistakenly believed it could find liability against Chief Fehlman and the City without finding Officer Benkert violated Douglas Ostling’s rights. If the Court had simply followed the 9th Circuit model instructions, as proposed by the Defendants, this problem could have been avoided.” (more…)

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On Friday, a jury awarded $1 million to the family of Douglas OstlingOstling was a mentally ill man who was shot and killed by Bainbridge Island police officer Jeff Benkert after Benkert and Officer Dave Portrey responded to a 911 call at the Ostling home.

The jury found that Officer Jeff Benkert did not conduct an unreasonable search the night of the shooting. They also found that Benkert did not use excessive force or unreasonably fail to render medical aid to Ostling.

The jury found, however, that the City of Bainbridge Island and police chief Jon Fehlman failed to properly train the city’s police officers in dealing with the mentally ill, and awarded $1 million for that failure. Ostling’s parents, Joyce and Bill Ostling, were each awarded $400,000 and the estate of Douglas Ostling was awarded $200,000. Fehlman and the City will be indemnified by the City’s insurance pool.  (more…)

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