Tell a lie. Bend a rule. Get rough with a suspect for the wrong reasons. The consequences can last a career.
In Snohomish County, police misdeeds, great and small, can wind up catalogued by prosecutors in what are called Potential Impeachment Disclosure files.
The people named in those records — 43 in all, most no longer carrying a badge — often are referred to as “Brady cops.” That’s a nod to Brady v. State of Maryland, the landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that defendants must be told about potentially exculpatory evidence in criminal cases, including questions about police witness credibility.
Maintaining those files is an important and at times unpopular function of law enforcement, Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said. The case management database at the prosecutor’s office is programmed to automatically flag the officers whenever they surface as witnesses in a case.
“A potential consequence of not disclosing something could be the reversal of an important case, even a dismissal,” Roe said.
Still, the information about “Brady cops” is not something local prosecutors freely share. For years, they’ve required defense attorneys to agree to court orders placing limits on what they can do with those details unless the information is admitted for use at trial.
The prosecutor’s office has been using court rules to keep the files secret, even though records about police misconduct are rarely shielded from public disclosure.
Police witnesses occupy a special place in criminal cases. They gather, secure and introduce the evidence that prosecutors rely on at trial. Their dispassionate, just-the-facts testimony can carry extra credibility. Doubts about truthfulness or competency can be devastating.
“Brady” questions surfaced late last year as lawyers began preparing for the murder trial of the man accused of fatally shooting 15-year-old Molly Conley along a Lake Stevens roadside in June. Meanwhile, a court battle looms over what jurors will be told about the misdeeds of two fired Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies who 19 years ago played important roles in investigating the fates of two young women near Everett. Patti Berry was stabbed to death; Tracey Brazzel is still missing and presumed dead. Prosecutors say DNA links a convicted rapist to the “cold” cases. The man’s lawyer recently obtained a court order for all records about the former deputies’ misconduct. Neither is listed among the county’s “Brady” cops.
The Herald in January got access to the county’s “Brady list” information using state public records laws. That required assistance from Seattle open-government attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard. She handled resistance from lawyers representing people on the list. One of those named in the files brought a lawsuit, then quickly dropped it. The man was surprised to learn that he was a “Brady cop,” years after retiring from his police career. His name has since been removed from the files, because he’s unlikely to ever again be called as a witness, Roe said.
The prosecutor’s office supplied the newspaper with details about the 43 men and women on the list. Of those, 10 still are working in local law enforcement: six as deputies at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, one as a Washington State Patrol trooper and one officer each at police departments in Everett, Lynnwood and Granite Falls.
While some on the list engaged in behaviors that led to prison sentences, most are there for more mundane conduct. Examples include being less than truthful about sharing a rumor about a coworker or not being truthful about missing a deadline for filing paperwork about a minor traffic accident.
More surprising, perhaps, are the officers who aren’t found in the files.
Former Everett police officer Troy Meade isn’t in the impeachment disclosure files even though the prospect of being named a “Brady cop” was one of the grounds that an arbitrator found for upholding his termination.
Meade was fired by the city of Everett in 2011, two years after he shot a drunken man seven times from behind. A jury acquitted Meade of murder but stopped short of calling the shooting self-defense. The city found that Meade’s explanations for opening fire simply didn’t measure up.
Former Edmonds police officer Daniel Lavely isn’t listed, either. A jury last year convicted him of custodial sexual misconduct, finding that he engaged in sex with a woman he’d detained. Lavely denied sex with the woman but admitted that he lied and falsified records about how much time he spent with the woman.
Now serving a year in the Snohomish County Jail, Lavely resigned from his police job about eight months after the May 2012 incident.
Neither of those former officers have impeachment disclosure status. Part of the reason for that is they’ve never been nominated for inclusion by the police departments where they worked, Roe said.
City of Everett prosecutors maintain their own potential impeachment disclosure files. They don’t list Meade, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.
“Officer Meade had been on administrative leave for two years when he was terminated, and any open cases involving him had been resolved or dismissed,” she said. “As a result, it is highly unlikely that he will ever be called as a witness. However, it is fair to say that if Officer Meade was still with the police department, he might be given a (impeachment disclosure) designation.”
Why they’re on the list
The person on the county prosecutor’s list the longest is still working as an Everett officer. He landed there nearly 14 years ago after police supervisors decided he hadn’t been entirely truthful when he claimed to have misplaced an accident report in his patrol car for a month.
A sheriff’s deputy, still working patrol, has the distinction of having twice been listed in the impeachment disclosure files; in 2006 for problematic testimony in drunken-driving cases and in 2012 for a lack of candor over his involvement in a child-custody dispute. Another is on the list for having “exacted some street justice” by threatening and assaulting a man after he injured a motorcycle officer in a crash. What happened could be important in a trial because a juror may be convinced the deputy would exhibit bias towards a suspect accused of assaulting an officer, prosecutors concluded.
Paul Watkins, a former Lynnwood deputy police chief, is in the files after getting sent to federal prison for stealing thousands of dollars from the department’s evidence room. His dishonesty landed him on the list.
Prosecutors also cited honesty as an issue for former Granite Falls police Sgt. Pat White. He was demoted in August after city officials discovered he had a card identifying him as the police chief. An internal investigation also found he hadn’t filed nearly half of the police paperwork he was expected to complete over a number of years.
One former deputy was surprised to learn that he was still in the prosecutor’s file, more than a decade and a half after he retired. Another lost her sheriff’s office job after filing paperwork that misrepresented the circumstances of a 2012 fender-bender accident involving her patrol car. She recently was reinstated after binding arbitration.
Questions about secrecy
Questions about the county’s handling of “Brady cops” came into sharp focus last year when longtime Everett defense attorney Mark Mestel objected to the secrecy order sought by prosecutors who had reason to question the truthfulness of a Lake Stevens police officer.
The officer was listed as a prosecution witness because he had been working the night Molly Conley was killed in an apparently random drive-by shooting. Mestel represents Erick Walker, the Marysville man facing murder, assault and other charges in connection with the fatal gunfire.
Prosecutors ultimately dropped former Lake Stevens officer James Wellington from their witness list. He was fired in December after becoming the focus of at least seven internal investigations and for failing a “last-chance” employment agreement.
Wellington landed in the prosecutor’s impeachment disclosure files for being less than candid when supervisors questioned him about the severity of his drinking problem, records show. By the time his name surfaced in connection with the Conley murder case, The Herald already had reported about his being disciplined for smelling of alcohol at work and his involvement in a controversial arrest of a Marysville man that led to a $100,000 settlement in a civil-rights case.
Mestel has practiced law in counties across Washington, but he said he’s never been asked to sign protective orders elsewhere. Such orders don’t stop information from getting out, particularly when it is subject to public records laws, he said.
Prosecutors here try to clamp down on information in impeachment disclosure cases as a form of “public relations with the cops,” he said.
“The State thinks nothing of airing my client’s dirty laundry, though it has quite a different view of airing the misconduct of police witnesses,” Mestel said.
Snohomish County’s approach to impeachment disclosure questions gets high marks from the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. The state association adopted a model policy last year, borrowing largely from the policies in Snohomish and King counties, said Tom McBride, the association’s executive secretary.
“Snohomish County has been a pioneer,” he said.
Roe said he developed the policies for the prosecutor’s office, working closely with his former boss Janice Ellis, who is now a Snohomish County Superior Court judge.
Each year his office sends a letter to local police agencies, asking chiefs and other top administrators for information about officers whose behaviors may make them eligible for inclusion in the files.
While many people in law enforcement understand why that’s necessary, “Cops feel very strongly about their reputation being impugned,” Roe said.
Getting named a “Brady cop” can figure into being forced out in some police departments. Indeed, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs supported draft legislation this year that would have allowed the state criminal-justice training commission to decertify officers who have a finding of untruthfulness or are convicted of certain offenses.
“We just don’t think those people ought to be law enforcement officers,” said Don Pierce, WASPC’s legislative director and a retired police chief.
The bill died in committee after opposition from police unions, according to WASPC. Efforts to make changes in arbitration laws also have met with heavy resistance.
In Snohomish County, Roe’s practice is to explain in writing to the officers that the impeachment disclosure designation doesn’t necessarily mean his office won’t call them as witnesses in future cases. Before adding them to the list he gives them an opportunity to make a case against the decision, in person.
That’s changed his mind in a few cases. The opposite also has been true, too, he said.
It is a rare decision and never made lightly, Roe said.
“Most cops, frankly, are doing what we pay them to do,” he said.
Scott North: 425-339-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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