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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vindictive Vancouver - Punishing Good Cops For Telling The Truth



In 2006, the city of Vancouver Washington fired an officer that they described as the dirtiest cop in Clark County’s history for allegedly falsifying reports and they sent out Brady notifications which effectively ended his career in law enforcement.

Following that dismissal the city then fired another officer in 2008 for allegedly falsifying a search warrant, branding that officer as a dirty cop as well which effectively ended his career as well.

At first glance, this might Sound like a city taking steps to clean up it’s police department, it might sound like something that should be applauded...

But you might be surprised to learn that it might be the exact opposite; that it may well be an attempt by city officials to rid it’s department of officers who have refused to be silent about the corruption they’ve seen occur within their police department at the direction of the city government.

The Story of Officer Navin Sharma

This story starts with Officer Navin Sharma, a decorated and respected police officer who was described as distinguished and dedicated and who was credited for saving countless lives by incorporating a medical unit into the SWAT division…

at least until he testified against other officers in an 1998 internal investigation about misconduct that occurred during a domestic violence prevention presentation that ultimately led to two sergeants being disciplined.

In reward for his honest testimony Sharma was rewarded with 8 long years of retribution that included racial epithets, offensive messages broadcast over the 911 dispatch radio system, and even failures to provide Sharma with backup when he was responding to reports of shots fired.

In 2000 Sharma filed suit against the city for discrimination and in 2001 he won a settlement of $750,000 that he negotiated down to $287,000 in order to gain a provision that let him remain on the force. But that didn’t end the abuse which included a 2003 incident where a city supervisor referred to Sharma as “the sand nigger that won a lawsuit against the city” and culminated in his firing in April of 2006.

Officer Sharma was fired for what DUI experts with the Washington State Patrol described as training issues, he made some errors while filling out DUI reports that are quite typical and were described by those experts as incidences that normally wouldn’t result in discipline beyond requiring the officer to attend additional training.

Instead of additional training, Sharma was fired, the city sent out Brady letters describing Sharma as an officer who’s testimony cannot be used in court, and city attorney Ted Gathe attempted to file criminal charges against Sharma over the alleged offense.

Sharma then filed another lawsuit against the city and won a record setting $1.6 million dollar lawsuit against the city for civil rights violation, a win that many accredit to the testimony of fellow police officers like Chris Kershaw.

The Story of Officer Chris Kershaw

Chris Kershaw is described as a dedicated officer with no prior record of misconduct. He was a distinguished Gulf War veteran with 10 years of experience in law enforcement that included his being awarded the medal of valor and life-saving medal for his actions that saved a SWAT officer’s life after he was shot in the back during a hostage situation… at least this was how he was described until he testified on Navin Sharma’s behalf in his civil rights suit against the city of Vancouver.

In late 2006, shortly after Officer Sharma’s firing, Officer Kershaw offered his testimony on Sharma’s behalf and as duty required he reported that intent to his supervisors in the VPD. Kershaw’s testimony proved pivotal to Sharma’s win against the city and, as filing papers indicate, retribution was swift once city attorney Ted Gathe found out about Kershaw’s plans to testify.

It was a testimony that ended prophetically with Kershaw stating the following:

“I must spend time to prepare myself… and prepare my family for the hardships we will most likely endure as a result of the discipline I believe will soon be imposed upon me.”
Just as in Sharma’s case, an investigation that was overseen by a VPD Commander named Kistler and Ted Gathe was started and Officer Kershaw was eventually disciplined and fired for allegedly misdating a search warrant which was, incidentally, the first search warrant that he had ever filled out and had done so without any prior training… a search warrant that the issuing judge had reviewed and described the dating error as “inadvertent and something that could be addressed with additional training”.

The city of Vancouver, just as in Sharma’s case, didn’t stop there. Just like Sharma, Ted Gathe then sent out Brady letters describing Kershaw as a liar and effectively ended Kershaw’s distinguished career, all allegedly for inadvertently misdating a form that he had never filled out before and had no training to show him how to fill it out properly.

However, it’s far closer to the mark to say that Kershaw’s career has been ended and his reputation ruined for testifying on behalf of a good cop who was persecuted for his own honest testimony against officers who did something wrong.

In response to his own termination from the Vancouver Police Department, Officer Kershaw has also filed a suit against the city that alleges he was fired in retaliation for his testimony on Officer Sharma’s behalf and has garnered the support from fellow officers, including retired Command Lieutenant Bruce Hall, a 20 year veteran of the VPD who supplied the following testimony for Offficer Sharma’s case in regards to what he was repeatedly told during a meeting he attended with VPD commanders and city officials:
“There are three kinds of employees. The first are those that are absolutely loyal, to a fault. They back each other no matter what… The next are those who need to be moved laterally or given some kind of “pay off” to get them out. The third kind needs to be actively and aggressively pursued in order to get them out, and you do it anyway you can… ride them until they quit or write them up until you can fire them.”
All of this in a department where other officers have been found to have lied in the presence of internal affairs officers during investigations into sexual abuse, intentional falsifications of records, and other more serious abuses of power that resulted in far less disciplinary actions, if any actions at all.

These two officers, who both had distinguished careers and were described by other officers, officials, and citizens alike as dedicated, trustworthy, and passionate about saving lives in their roles as law enforcement officers and medics, were fired for what everyone involved describes as inadvertent training-related errors by a city attorney who has refused to discipline one of his own city attorneys who had recently been arrested for his third DUI… an attorney who also works in the prosecutor’s office.

It doesn’t even stop with the persecution of Navin and Kershaw, in fact the the Clark County 911 operator, Holly Starr, who reported the incidents of racially-charged broadcasts targeting Navin Sharma won a whistle-blower lawsuit settlement for $260,000.

Ultimately, what is happening in Vancouver is the complete opposite of a city holding officers accountable, it’s a city that is refusing to hold itself accountable… and ultimately the citizens are the ones who will suffer for the loss of good officers like Navin Sharma and Chris Kershaw, all while ignoring and defending the real misconduct that occurs around them.

As I said before, sometimes officers can be the victims of misconduct too, and by all the evidence piled against the city of Vancouver, this certainly appears to be a textbook example of injustice done to some of the best officers that city has ever had.

References:
Good Cop, Mad Cop - Willamette Week Online
Ex-Officer Files Claim Against City - The Columbian
Filing Papers -Chris Kershaw's Notice Of Tort Claim Against City of Vancouver
Navin Sharma - Injustice In Seattle

5 comments:

Karl Mansoor said...

Speaking from experience as a law enforcement veteran, the post above is a snapshot of what goes on in so many law enforcement agencies across the country.

Once in awhile, there are officers in police departments who wish to speak up against unjust practices and police corruption. When they do, some police and government administrators break out the sledge hammers. Officers daring to speak up get slammed. That scares other officers into keeping quiet when misconduct occurs.

Unless the public demands changes to laws so that complete transparency and accountability in law enforcement agencies will be the norm, the problem will get worse.

People should think of it as a major health problem. It won’t get better if the same unhealthy practices continue which caused the problem in the first place. If corrections are not made, the problems will get worse.

FBM said...

My brother-in-law was dragged by his hair and assaulted by a Vancouver police officers some years ago. And yes, for a while the eight who witnessed the incident were quiet. Then they tried to pin charges on a female witness who was with him and that's when at least some of them refused to back the officer up on his false report so the whole thing got dropped. So occasionally the code of silence doesn't prevail but that seems to be the exception not the rule in Vancouver and other places.

I agree that the public needs to be more involved in pressing for change. With the situation involving the police officer who filed the claim in my city, there's lots of comments on the articles about how reform is needed but people have to be willing to be involved in pushing for that change and those reforms.

Packratt said...

Karl,

I agree, cases like this illustrate the need for transparency in the investigative and disciplinary processes for police departments, otherwise we risk the abuse of accountability processes for political reasons like what's currently happening in Vancouver Washington.

The only reason why the public is getting a glimpse of the abuses that can occur in this case is because these officers filed suit and the documents and testimony in these cases are becoming public record, otherwise we would have never known about what's going on.

It's just a travesty, it's a case of punishing good cops to protect corruption, there's no other way to put it.

Thanks, as always, for taking the time to comment!

Packratt said...

FBM

Sorry to hear about what happened to your brother-in-law. And yes, he is very lucky that there were some officers there who were unwilling to stick with the blue wall of silence in that case because it truly is rare to find officers with that kind of ethical sense of responsibility to the truth.

I think that's what bothers me most about this case, here we have officers who, judging by their records and the support they have from the community, were the kind of officers any city should be proud and lucky to have... but they were crucified all because one told the truth during an internal investigation.

We, the public, are obliged to do more to improve accountability and transparency in government, and if these politicians responsible for what's going on in Vancouver are re-elected despite all of this... then ultimately the responsibility for these abuses fall squarely on the shoulders of the people, not just the politicians.

...just wish I could do more to convince people that they have to demand more from the people they elect and the people who are sworn to protect them and enforce our laws fairly and justly.

Thank you for the comments, FBM, they are always greatly appreciated!

Anonymous said...

As the spouse of a former VPD officer whose employment was unfairly and illegally terminated, I can only tell you....there's so much more that has gone on, and continues to go on, in the corrupt halls of VPD management. So much that continues to be covered up. So many good officers who are harrassed into quitting. So many phony internal affairs investigaions. And so much that the fair-haired children are allowed to get away with.
We didnt' have the resources - energy, money, will - to fight them at the time. I wish we had.

 
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