Mayor: 'I wasn't told the whole thing' in police firing

Pictured, from left are Darin Odegaard, Tonasket Mayor Dennis Brown, and John Cruz.

TONASKET—Tonasket Police officer John Cruz was terminated Dec. 17.

City attorney Mick Howe said Cruz was terminated for allegedly working in violation of the city’s municipal code, working beyond his acting appointment, and working full time, plus overtime without proper training.

Cruz declined to comment on his termination but said “the police are safe.”

Initially, Police Chief Darin Odegaard was terminated, too, but Mayor Dennis Brown revoked the termination and instead will discipline Odegaard with two weeks off without pay, according to Howe.

Brown said prior to a meeting Monday, he was handed paperwork prepared by Howe regarding their terminations.

“I just was handed a paper,” Brown said. “I signed it and I wish I hadn’t."

He said he had about 15 minutes to review the paper “with no explanations, and they said that’s what I had to do.

“I wasn’t told the whole thing,” the mayor said of the termination letters prepared by the city attorney. “When I seen a wrong thing going on, I had to make a change.”

“After thinking and seeing a bunch of stuff,” Brown said he changed his mind on Odegaard's termination.

“I think he’s good,” Brown said of Odegaard. “I think he’s been handed a block of worms. I’m proud of him…trying to do the right thing.”

When asked on a scale of 1-10 how he would rate Odegaard as an officer of the law, Brown responded, “I’m not going to put a number on him.”

When questioned if he would consider recommending Odegaard to reinstate Cruz he said, “that’s a question I really don’t want to answer at this time.”

In the termination letter to Cruz, the decision was allegedly based on him “working under the pretense of a ‘reserve officer’” in violation of state law; working “beyond four months of your ‘acting appointment’ in violation of Tonasket Civil Service Rule VII, section 7;” and “working full time plus—many hours of overtime—without the proper training and commission mandated by law.”

“I have received information recently that has caused me to lose confidence in your ability to serve as chief of the Tonasket Police Department,” Odegaard’s termination letter said. “Therefore, as the mayor of the city of Tonasket, and as the designated ‘appointing authority,’ I am hereby notifying you that I have made a decision to terminate your probationary employment with the city of Tonasket effective immediately.”

According to the termination letter, the decision to initially fire Odegaard was based on “permitting, facilitating, and directing a limited commissioned 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’ who by definition (of state law)…cannot serve on a full-time basis.”

The letter also alleged Odegaard violated the city’s municipal code by “assigning a full-time work schedule to reserve officer John Cruz and permitting and approving his full-time and overtime hours to be submitted to the city’s payroll clerk” and “allowing officer Cruz to work beyond the experience of his four-month ‘acting appointment’ in violation of Tonasket Civil Service Rule VII, Section 7.”

Both Odegaard and Cruz were told to “immediately return your badge(s) and firearms to the police department, and, as soon as possible, but no later than one hour from now, return all city/police department accessories, equipment, and keys to City Hall,” according to the letter.

In a letter to Odegaard from Howe, he said local rule VI Section 7 mandates acting appointments cannot exceed four months.

"My conclusion is that we are in violation of the civil service rules since his (Cruz) appointments have exceeded the four-month period,” the letter said.

According to public documents obtained by The Chronicle Tuesday morning, Cruz was apparently expelled from the police academy.

Howe said he encountered both Odegaard and Cruz at a recent civil service commission meeting where questions were allegedly asked of Howe and “a ton of red flags went up.”

During the termination of employment yesterday, Howe said two sheriff deputies were present.

“I contacted the sheriff’s office and we had two deputies there,” Howe said. “It was pretty good that we had them there. Cruz was threatening, trying to intimidate.”

According to public documents, Howe contacted the state Criminal Justice Training Commission questioning the status of Cruz earlier this month.

"Given the information provided, I am informing you the use of reserve officer John J. Cruz in his current capacity is not authorized under RCW 10.39.020(5), RCW 43.101.095, RCW 43.101.200, and WAC 139-05-810," a letter signed by Peace Officer Certification Manager Trisha Jones said. "Rather than working as a reserve officer, he is acting as a full-time, fully commissioned peace officer, but without meeting the legal requirements of a peace officer. Consequently, we are requesting that reserve officer John J. Cruz no longer serve in any full-time capacity for the city of Tonasket.”

The letter was also sent to state Criminal Justice Training Certification Cmdr. Rex Caldwell, Odegaard, Howe, Okanogan County Prosecuting Attorney Arian Noma, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers and Okanogan County Sheriff-elect Tony Hawley.

Howe said Cruz reported to Odegaard, and Odegaard reports to the mayor.

“The chief knew his (Cruz’s) status,” Howe said, noting Cruz allegedly worked more than 70 hours per week and “can’t be working legally as a full-time officer.”

A letter from the state Criminal Justice Training Commission dated Feb. 7, 2018, shows Cruz completed the 289.5-hour Basic Law Enforcement Reserve Academy on April 11, 2015.

"Under WAC 139-05-825, his certification of training is valid until June 20, 2018," the letter said. "If he resumes his duties as a reserve officer here in Washington state after June 20, 2018, but before June 20, 2019, he would be required to complete the basic reserve law enforcement academy in order to obtain a certificate of equivalency; or after June 20, 2019, he would be required to complete the full basic reserve law enforcement academy as described in WAC 139-05-810."

The Tonasket City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, at City Hall, 209 S. Whitcomb Ave.

The public is invited to attend.

Editor’s note: As this is a developing story, this page will be updated as information becomes available

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