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Chief Fehlman calls it quits

Jon Fehlman - Photo courtesy of Bainbridge Island Police Department
Jon Fehlman
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Bainbridge Island Police Department

Bainbridge Island Police Chief Jon Fehlman resigned from his position this week.

His surprise departure was announced by city officials Sept. 11, and came just minutes before the city released an investigation into alleged misdeeds by the chief made by the city’s police union.

Fehlman was apprised of the investigation’s outcome, but still opted to resign.

Interim City Manager Morgan Smith said Fehlman’s leaving was his own decision, and his last day would be Saturday, Sept. 15.

“The city wishes Jon the best in his future endeavors and thanks him for his service to the city,” Smith said in a statement.

The city council approved a separation agreement for Fehlman on a 5-0 vote at the council’s Wednesday meeting.

Fehlman will receive six months severance pay, plus an additional 5 percent. He will also receive 18 months medical coverage—six months will be covered by the city, after which he can continue coverage at his own expense. The city will also pay for any unused sick and vacation time.  The city will not oppose any unemployment benefits Fehlman applies for.

The salary payout is expected to be approximately $72,450, based on Fehlman’s annual salary of $138,324.

The city council was unaware of his decision as the city announced his departure.

One council member said he did not know the city had developed a severance agreement until after the announcement of his departure.

“I knew that the city manager was talking to Fehlman as to where the city was going, but that’s all I knew about it,” said Councilman Steve Bonkowski.

Other council members could only speculate on the resignation, but understood it.

“I have felt that over the last few months that he has received a series of unfortunate and undeserved blows, so I don’t blame him for resigning,” said Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos. “But I don’t know what his decision is based on.”

Fehlman came to Bainbridge in 2008 from the Santa Rosa Police Department in California where he held the rank of lieutenant and worked in the Special Services Division of the Investigations Bureau. In California, Fehlman sat on the board of directors for both the National Alliance for Mental Illness and United Against Sexual Assault.

He received the Medal of Valor, Good Conduct Award, Distinguished Service Award, Community Policing Award and was twice honored as the Officer of the Year.

He was hired as Bainbridge Island’s deputy chief in 2008, but advanced to chief of police in 2009 when Chief Matt Haney left the department.

After he took on the role, Fehlman’s former position of deputy chief was cut as the department was reorganizing.

Fehlman joined a city hall in turmoil, as key personnel left the city and Bainbridge Island struggled with major budget woes.

And just one year after taking over as chief, Douglas Ostling, a mentally ill man, was shot and killed by Bainbridge police officers in his home.

Fehlman was named in civil rights lawsuit filed against the city in 2010 by the Ostling family. He was accused of failing to properly train his officers to deal with the mentally ill.

A jury ruled in the Ostling family’s favor earlier this year, and awarded the family a $1 million judgement.

Fehlman, however, was unable to speak for himself in court. Shortly before the trial in May, he fell ill with life-threatening pancreatitis and was hospitalized, and he was in and out of consciousness for 10 days. He also underwent heart surgery in the following weeks.

Fehlman has been absent from the police department and on leave ever since.

In June, the city’s police guild took a vote of “no confidence” in Fehlman which sparked an investigation over the summer into the union’s accusations.

Fehlman’s resignation came as the city was preparing to release the results of the investigation into the alleged misdeeds.

The investigation found a majority of the claims made by the guild to be unsubstantiated. Other claims were found to be partially true.

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