Civil Service will not hear appeal

Tonasket City Hall.

TONASKET – Tisha Jones, Manager of Peace Officer Certification of the State Criminal Justice Training Commission, clarified yesterday, Jan. 10, that former Tonasket Police Officer John Cruz's reserve training certificate lapsed June 20, 2018. Cruz was sworn in to work as a police officer under former Police Chief Darin Odegaard on July 9, 2018.

In a letter to City Attorney Mick Howe dated January 10, 2019, Jones said she was responding to Howe's request for Jones to what Cruz's training/certification status was between June 18, 2018 and July 9, 2018.

Jones referenced a letter she wrote to Mayor Dennis Brown Dec. 14, 2018, wherein she “explained that it appeared Mr. Cruz had been serving as a full-time, fully commissioned peace officer as of July 9, 2018 and requested he no longer serve in that capacity.”

“On December 21, 2018, via email you shared, in summary, that you felt the hire form for John Cruz had been falsified and was backdated to avoid Cruz' reserve diploma from lapsing,” Jones stated in the letter to Howe. “You explained that while the 'Mayor signed the form it was prepared and dated at the Tonasket PD and put in front of the mayor for signature by Chief Odegaard.'”

Jones said a request from Howe to contact him was delayed due to her being out of the office until Jan. 3.

According to the letter, Howe contacted Jones again on Jan. 4, providing “additional documentation in support of your claim that the hire form was falsified.”

Jones said after reviewing the documentation, she contacted Mayor Brown on Jan. 9. Jones stated the conversation was not recorded, but she summarized the following from her notes.

Jones said when she asked Brown if he recalled signing the hire form for Cruz, he allegedly said yes. Brown also allegedly verified initialing next to Cruz's gender and status.

Asked if there was a hire date listed on the form, Brown said “I don't recall.”

“In looking at the form, it does not look to be altered, do you have a copy of the form in front of you?” asked Jones.

“I’ve seen the form but don’t have it in front of me, Alice (Attwood) has it and she is out for the rest of the week,” replied Brown.

Jones next said, “In Section 3, someone wrote in a date, was that you?”

“No,” responded Brown.

“It has been suggested this is feminine writing, do you know who wrote the date in?,” asked Jones, to which Brown replied, “No, I don’t.”

Asked if he knew who was present when the form was signed,” Brown responded, “Odegaard and Cruz.”

“As they were not hired yet, how was it possible that they were present when you signed the form?” asked Jones.

“I remember them being there in uniform,” replied Brown.

“How is it possible that they were in uniform when they had not begun their employment?” Jones asked.

“I don’t know, I just know they were there in uniform,” Brown responded.

“Mayor Brown, given the 18th was the day after Father’s Day and the same day I received the form, can you tell me a roundabout day you believe you signed that form?” asked Jones. Again, Brown said he did not recall.

“Mayor Brown, I still don’t understand how they were in uniform when you signed the form, were they in Tonasket uniforms?”

“Yes, I don’t recall when it was,” said Brown.

Jones states the phone call was then disconnected.

Calling back, she asked Brown if he would like to be cc'd in the letter she would be providing to Howe.

“Yes, you’ll have to mail it to the city,” said Brown, who claimed at the time of running for office he did not have a computer and was not on the Internet.

Jones then stated in the letter to Howe, “Although Mayor Brown cannot recall the specific date he signed the form, the records you provided show Mr. Cruz was not sworn into the position of police officer until July 9, 2018. In addition, his timecards reflect he began his employment on July 9, 2018. With this detailed information, I have no other reason to believe that Mr. Cruz did not serve in any capacity between June 18, 2018 and July 8, 2018. Therefore, given the totality of the circumstances presented, it is my opinion that Mr. Cruz’ reserve training certificate lapsed on June 20, 2018.”

“As his reserve training had lapsed under WAC 139-05-825 (3)(i), he had not met the training requirements set forth in that WAC;,” continued Jones, “plus it is clear that Mr. Cruz was serving in the capacity of a full-time, fully commissioned peace officer, but without meeting the legal requirements of a peace officer as required under RCW 10.93.020(5), RCW 43.101.095, RCW 43.101.200.”

In a Dec. 17, 2018 Special Civil Service Meeting between Howe and commissioners Jerry Anderson and Phil Christy, Howe informed the commissioners both Odegaard and Howe were terminated earlier in the day.

Howe said Cruz was terminated for working under the pretense of a “Reserve Officer,” working beyond the four months of his “acting appointment,” and working full time, plus many hours of overtime without the proper training and commission mandated by law.

Howe told commissioners Odegaard was terminated for permitting, facilitating and directing a Limited Commission Officer, John J. Cruz, to serve on a full time basis, with full knowledge that his status was that of a “specially commissioned peace officer;” being in violation of Tonasket Municipal Code 2.12 by assigning a full time work schedule to Cruz and permitting and approving full-time and overtime hours; and allowing Cruz to work beyond the expiration of his four-month “Acting Appointment.”

Mayor Brown rehired Chief Odegaard later in the day Dec. 17, and rehired Cruz Dec. 20.

Both Odegaard and Cruz were re-fired the following day, Dec. 21, leaving just one officer in place, Jose Perez. Perez, a lateral transfer from Spokane, was sworn in Oct. 9, 2018.

According to Perez, Mayor Brown informed him Jan. 3 the police department was being shut down.

“He said he does not know when the contract will take effect, but that he's gonna take me on, keep me on for as long as he can,” said Perez.

Police clerk Diane Foreman was given four weeks paid administrative leave before her layoff began.

Jan. 4, Odegaard and Foreman were requested to get their belongings out of the police station, temporarily housed in the Tonasket Visitors and Business Resource Center. Odegaard asked Mayor Brown if he was going to “include Perez in the contract” for police coverage from the Okanogan County Sheriff's Office.

“No,” responded Brown, “but I'm going to keep him on as long as I can.”

“I'm just working it day by day,” said Perez. “I don't know when my last day will be.”

Two days later, Jan. 6, Mayor Brown told Perez he was being laid off, as the department had been disbanded. Perez alerted the Okanogan County Sheriff's office, and signed off at noon.

“The mayor did say the contract had been signed and sent out, and approved, and that was why the department was disbanded,” said Perez.

Perez said the following day, the mayor attempted to give him a termination letter.

“How can I get a termination letter from a department that no longer exists?” Perez said he told the mayor, handing back the letter.

“A half hour later, the mayor comes back and said, 'I stand corrected,' and gave me my lay-off letter,” said Perez.

A contract for services has not yet been negotiated between the City of Tonasket and the Okanogan County Sheriff's office.

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