Bainbridge police chief investigation nears its end

The cost for the investigation into alleged misdeeds by Bainbridge Island Police Chief Jon Fehlman is nearing $18,000, according to billing invoices submitted to the city by the special investigator hired to conduct the probe.

The city launched the investigation in June following a vote of “no confidence” in the chief by the Bainbridge Island Police Guild. Officials with the police union blasted Fehlman for a lack of leadership and poor morale in the department, but also claimed he had violated police department and city policies and state and federal laws.

Interim City Manager Morgan Smith hired Seattle lawyer and workplace investigator Rebecca Dean to examine the guild’s allegations.

Smith said this week that the investigation was nearing its end.

“I think she’s in the process of wrapping up,” Smith said of Dean.

“She has completed all of her one-on-one interviews and is assembling her report,” Smith added.

According to Dean’s billing records, the investigator spent approximately 74 hours on the case from June 22 through July 31.

In June, the work included analyzing the guild’s no confidence letter and talking with city officials about the scope of the investigation.

The following month, in early July, the effort shifted to preparing for an interview with Guild president Bob Day, which included reviewing statements Day had made to the press, and poring over background documents in the case.

Dean’s detailing of her work hours shows she had a conference with Day and talked with Guild lawyer James Julius about the investigation and how interviews with police officers would be conducted. Dean also touched base with City Attorney Will Patton over how the interviews would be conducted.

Also in early July, city officials decided the investigation would not attempt to address all of the guild’s complaints, and that Dean would not investigate allegations that Fehlman violated policy, or the guild’s belief that Fehlman had a “lack of connection to the community.”

Dean was also told not to look into allegations related to the Ostling family’s lawsuit against the city of Bainbridge Island.

The city was sued by the Ostlings in 2011 after a Bainbridge police officer shot and killed Douglas Ostling while responding to a 911 call in October 2010, and the mentally ill man met police at his apartment door with an ax. At the close of the civil rights trial in federal court earlier this year, a jury awarded the Ostling family $1 million and said the city had failed to properly train police officers on how to deal with the mentally ill.

Fehlman was named in the lawsuit, and the guild criticized Fehlman for his part in press releases that were given to the media after the shooting. The guild complained that Fehlman released the names of the officers involved in the shooting the day after the killing, and prevented Bainbridge police from being involved in the investigation of the Ostling shooting.

City officials said the guild’s complaints that involved the Ostling shooting would be reviewed internally.

According to Dean’s summary of work done on the Fehlman investigation, she has written a memorandum to the interim city manager on executive leadership issues. She has also talked with city officials about interviews with Fehlman, Police Commander Sue Shultz and other witnesses, including night shift officers in the police department.

Smith, the interim city manager, said this week the investigator’s report will be released to the public when it is complete.

The guild has not been entirely satisfied with the direction of the investigation.

In a post on the guild’s website on July 22, the guild recounted a meeting with Smith about the investigation, and the guild said Smith told members of the union “that she did not believe that there was any criminal behavior on the part of Mr. Fehlman and was therefore bypassing using an outside law enforcement agency and hiring a private contractor to investigate.”

In the post, the guild complained that police officers would have been investigated by someone with legal authority or law enforcement powers if similar allegations had been leveled against them.

“If the city maintains an unwillingness to have valid potential criminal complaints investigated, the guild may pursue having agencies with legal authority, investigative powers, and jurisdiction look into the allegations,” the guild added.

Smith declined to comment on the guild’s characterization of her meeting with union members.

The guild’s allegations of misdeeds by Felhman were contained in a 29-page packet that was given to city officials after the no confidence vote in June. Some of the guild’s accusations dated back three years, and included complaints that he had received advance travel funds in late 2009 but did not submit expense reports within 10 days of his return. The guild also said he used his official police vehicle on personal trips, and made several purchases, including a BlackBerry cell phone and a new Chevrolet SUV, without permission from higher-ups.

According to the city, no whistleblower complaints were ever filed about the alleged wrongdoings prior to the no confidence vote.

Fehlman is currently on administrative leave. The city hired Larry Dickerson, a former police chief from Lacey, to serve as interim public safety director in Fehlman’s absence in July.

At the council meeting Wednesday, the council gave the city manager the authority to extend Dickerson’s time with the city.

The council approved an $84,000 increase in the total amount of pay for Dickerson; his contract now totals $112,000.

Smith said the police department’s personnel budget would be tapped to pay for the costs of the interim public safety director.

Smith said she was unsure how long Dickerson will continue to work for Bainbridge Island.

“We are still waiting for the results of the investigation,” she said.

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