Former Lake Stevens police officer appeals firing

LAKE STEVENS — James Wellington, the former Lake Stevens “last-chance” police officer, is appealing his termination.

Wellington’s legal options after being fired in December are governed by the labor contract, interim police Cmdr. Dennis Taylor said. Wellington is now in the third stage of a four-stage appeal process.

Interim Police Chief Dan Lorentzen denied Wellington’s most recent appeal.

The next appeal is expected to go before Mayor Vern Little. The mayor will have 30 days to decide.

If the mayor denies that appeal, the guild could request binding arbitration, Taylor said.

Wellington, 41, worked for the city about seven years. He was fired Dec. 31 after at least seven internal investigations, the most recent of which took place last year.

Before his firing, Wellington was one of more than 40 police officers in Snohomish County on the “Brady list,” meaning prosecutors had determined there were reasons that his credibility could be called into question if he was called as a witness in court.

In connection with those concerns, Wellington was dropped as a potential witness in the upcoming murder trial for the man accused of shooting 15-year-old Molly Conley in Lake Stevens last summer.

Unions often are legally bound to represent officers who are fired during their appeals. The Lake Stevens guild has not offered any public comment regarding the Wellington case.

Wellington’s discipline files showed he’d been in trouble for sending a threatening email, showing up at work smelling of alcohol, abusing sick leave, not telling the truth and misusing his city uniform allowance to purchase a backup handgun. In addition, Wellington was prosecuted for a drunken disturbance inside a hotel at Yellowstone National Park in 2012. He also was involved in a confrontation with a Marysville man that led the city to pay out a $100,000 civil-rights settlement.

Wellington signed the “last-chance” employment agreement with the city in late 2012. As part of that agreement, he agreed to seek help for a drinking problem. His initial statements about his drinking were later deemed dishonest, affecting his credibility.

The last-chance agreement contained language about Wellington’s legal options if he was fired. It’s not yet clear how lawyers will sort out the agreement, the contract and his grievances. They could argue whether he was fired under the terms of the agreement or under a separate procedure.

Wellington’s internal investigation from 2013 dealt with how he handled a Sept. 9 report of suspicious activity, according to a letter to Wellington from the interim police chief. The letter and other documents were obtained by The Herald through a public records request earlier this year.

Wellington reportedly detained a man at the scene and searched him and his wallet. Wellington found illegal drugs and booked the man into jail. The circumstances of the search violated the man’s civil rights, according to the letter.

Wellington’s reports about the incident contained inconsistencies and were “self-serving,” Lorentzen wrote. Accusations of outright dishonesty and falsified documents were not sustained, however.

In a letter terminating the officer, the mayor wrote Wellington that his apparent inability to follow department policy continues to be problem and potentially exposes the city to liability.

Wellington’s improper search was of particular concern, Little wrote.

“These issues should be second nature to you at this point in your career,” he wrote. “What is additionally disturbing is your history of department policy violations, recent poor judgment, and your apparent inability to grasp simple police work concepts.”

At least four police officers in Snohomish County have been fired and then reinstated by arbitrators in recent years, including the high-profile case of Derek Carlile, the Marysville police officer whose young son shot and killed a sibling in 2012.

In early March, Carlile was undergoing retraining and recertification before returning to his previous job in patrol, city officials have said.

Some police officers who are reinstated opt to sign settlement agreements instead of returning to the force. Whether they receive back pay is usually part of the arbitration.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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