News

Officer's arrest rocks Des Moines

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Two King County Sheriff deputies and a Des Moines Police officer were arrested last Saturday night for investigation into fourth-degree assault and unlawful imprisonment after they allegedly struck a drug informant, drove him to the Green River and threatened him with more harm before letting him go.

Officer Robert Hollis, serving as a spokesman for the Des Moines Police, said Monday the incident was unfortunate for everyone, including the department.

“We’re all in a state of disbelief,” he said. “You don’t want it to happen in our profession and think if it’s going to happen, it would be somewhere bigger, like New York or San Francisco.

“Being a smaller department, it hurts a little bit more because we know all the players. It’s not like you hear a name and don’t know the face.”

The arrested officers were part of an interagency drug task force combating narcotics activity and other street crimes in south King County. The task force is based out of the sheriff’s Southwest Precinct in Burien.

A Des Moines officer assigned to the task force and present during the alleged incident reported it to Des Moines’ interim chief, Kevin Tucker, who launched an immediate investigation into the allegations with Sheriff Dave Reichert.

On Oct. 22, the officers and deputies who are suspected in the incident picked up a man they thought had information about drug sales and questioned him behind a business in the 27200 block of Pacific Highway South, police said.

The officers apparently struck the man several times, put him in an unmarked police car and drove him to the Green River, where they threatened him again and then let him go. Police officials didn’t say what led the officers to allegedly begin striking the man.

The three officers were arrested Saturday and booked at the King County Jail in Seattle. They remain on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

The King County prosecuting attorney could file charges this week. Fourth-degree assault is a misdemeanor and unlawful imprisonment is a felony.

The two deputies were employed with the Sheriff Department more than five years, and the Des Moines officer was employed with that department almost four years, according to police.

In September, the same officers were involved in a shooting when they tried to arrest a 34-year-old man wanted on felony warrants and he fled, firing a handgun at police during a pursuit up Pacific Highway South.

Deputies stopped the chase by ramming the man’s car, which caused it to crash into a light pole. When he continued to shoot at them, one deputy rammed his car again, causing him to stop shooting long enough for the other deputies to shoot him. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The officers involved were placed on paid administrative.

Sheriff’s spokesman John Urquhart said the same officers ended up in the same place at the same time again coincidentally, and the man they allegedly hit wasn’t connected to the prior incident.

Urquhart said this was the first alleged incident of brutality by Sheriff Department officers in anyone’s memory.

Hollis said he’s unsure if the recent incident will cause the Des Moines department to rework some of its policies and procedures. They were just updated in August, he said, and they’ll probably be worked over again when the new chief, Roger Baker, arrives. Baker, chief of the Anaheim, Calif. Police, was hired earlier this month to replace Don Obermiller, who retired in June.

Meanwhile, Hollis said, officers will continue patrolling in Des Moines.

“We’ve been through a lot the last couple of years. We’ve made it through before and we’ll make it through again,” he said. “Sometimes bad things happen.”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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