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'No confidence' vote came as Chief Fehlman recovered from pancreatitis, was getting ready for heart surgery

Bainbridge Island Police Chief Jon Fehlman was finally starting to overcome serious health issues when he learned that officers in his department has taken a vote of "no confidence" in him.

Even so, the no-confidence vote came on the evening before Fehlman was getting ready to undergo heart surgery, according to public records obtained by the Review.

Members of the Bainbridge Island Police Guild took the vote against Fehlman on June 11, and the union criticized the chief for poor leadership and low morale in the department. The city has since hired an investigator to look into other allegations made by the union against Fehlman, who has led the city's police department since 2009.

According to a recent declaration made by Fehlman in the Ostling court case, Fehlman recounted the serious health problems he has battled since mid-May.

Fehlman, 50, is currently on personal leave for medical reasons and has not been at work since the second week of May. City officials announced last week that Larry Dickerson, a retired police chief from Lacey, had been hired to fill in for Fehlman during the chief's absence. Dickerson was hired as interim public safety director July 2.

In the declaration, submitted to U.S. District Court by the city's attorneys in the hope that a new trial would be granted for the Ostling shooting, Fehlman recalled how he fell ill just before the start of the civil rights trial.

Fehlman, who has been unable to talk to the press since his hospitalization, provided details in his court statement of his attempts to battle life-threatening medical issues, which were much more severe than previously reported.

The chief recounted waking up at 4 a.m. on Mother's Day, May 13 with intense chest pain and "radiating pain throughout my body."

He said he first tried to ignore the pain, but his wife asked him to seek medical attention. At 1 p.m. that Sunday, he went to see the paramedics at the Bainbridge Island Fire Department's Station 21 on Madison Avenue.

Paramedics told Fehlman he wasn't having a heart attack, but they were at a loss to explain the severe pain afflicting the chief. He was then taken to the emergency room at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, where he was diagnosed with pancreatitis.

Doctors at the hospital treated Fehlman for pancreatitis — a life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas — and also discovered he was suffering from a serious heart anomaly.

Fehlman was treated for his pain with morphine and dilaudid, and Fehlman said in his declaration that he was in and out of consciousness over the next 10 days.

Physicians tried to insert a feeding tube, but it became clogged and stayed that way despite multiple attempts to clear the tube, and Fehlman went for nearly a week without food.

Without nourishment — and malfunctions with the drug delivery system that had been set up — Fehlman's recovery was stalled for several days.

According to his declaration, Fehlman's condition got progressively worse over the span of two weeks.

It wasn't until June 4, he said, that the effects from the morphine and dilaudid eased to where he could communicate with others and he found out what had happened during the Ostling trial.

The trial, prompted by a civil lawsuit filed by the Ostling family after their mentally ill son was shot and killed by a Bainbridge Police officer responding to a 911 call, resulted in a $1 million judgement against the city of Bainbridge Island, and Fehlman was blamed for not properly training his officers on how to handle the mentally ill.

Fehlman, however, said in his declaration that the trial would have come out differently had he been well enough to testify.

"I wish I could have attended to trial to defend myself, my officer and my city, but the doctors ordered that I not attend trial," Fehlman said.

"I was not in a condition to relay information to anyone during the trial due to my medical state," he added. "I believe I would have been a disturbance in the courtroom due to my medical needs."

Fehlman also said the verdict would signal the end of his 27-year career in law enforcement. He also noted that he was given the vote of no confidence by the union the day before he was scheduled to undergo two invasive heart procedures.

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