Reserve officer resigns after questions over criminal background

A Bainbridge Island reserve police officer resigned this week after anonymous emails raised questions about his criminal background.

City Manager Brenda Bauer said Reserve Officer Charles Arntz, who is a long-time employee for the city’s Public Works Department, voluntarily resigned in order to avoid raising issues for the Police Department after police records from his background surfaced this week.

“[Arntz] didn’t have any disqualifying history, and he was truthful in his application,” said Bauer. “However, we felt that the review of his background that was done was inconsistent with the standards the police chief and I have set. He is a good city employee and will continue with city employment, but I don’t think he is the best fit for a police officer.”

Arntz, who could have been terminated as a reserve officer, chose to resign after a discussion with Bauer and Police Chief Jon Fehlman. Arntz was sworn in as a reserve officer on July 19. His wife, Lezlie Arntz, is the personal assistant to Fehlman.

The city was alerted to the situation after a series of emails was sent attached with court records relating to alleged arrests of Arntz. Bauer said that Arntz was not convicted of a felony or a gross misdemeanor that would have disqualified him from becoming a reserve police officer. However, she added, had the BIPD done a more extensive background check a record that had been previously expunged would have surfaced.

“The police department knew he had a misdemeanor, that was all on his record, and a misdemeanor isn’t disqualifying [from being a reserve officer],” said Bauer. “There was another conviction that was expunged that didn’t really show up. Had we been more diligent in our review we would have discovered that. That’s inconsistent with the background check I would like.”

On Jan. 5, 2008, according to a Bainbridge Island police report, Arntz assaulted another Bainbridge citizen while coming off the ferry from Seattle. The subject said Arntz pushed him into the wall of the building, then picked him up and slammed him to the ground, allegedly because the victim was moving too slowly from the ferry terminal bridge, according to the incident report. Another witness came forward, a taxi driver at the terminal, to confirm the incident and the victim and his wife made statements the following day.

The victim said he did not know the subject or why he was assaulted.

Arntz admitted to the assault, according to the police report, which resulted in several visits to doctors for treatment of blood in his urine, back pain and a lost tooth, according to medical documents submitted to the court.

Arntz was charged with assault in the fourth degree at the time of his arrest and eventually paid the victim $400 in restitution, according to court documents.

Bauer said reserve officers go through the same background review and testing as do regular officers. She also said that when the city became aware of the situation they were quick to remedy, and plan to remedy the system including the standards used for background checks.

“I think we are at point in the city’s history to do a best practices review of pretty much all our departments,” said Bauer. “To pick amongst the departments with the greatest need for focus and attention it would be the police department to start. I have been here for a little over a year now and we have had a series of very serious issues.”

Police Chief Jon Fehlman did not return phone calls before press time.

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