Lake Stevens cop named in lawsuit was in barroom brawl

LAKE STEVENS — About a week after the Lake Stevens police chief wrote a letter to a man apologizing for a lack of professionalism on the part of two of his officers, Everett police investigated one of the officers for taking part in a barroom brawl.

Lake Stevens police officer Steve Warbis was shot in the forehead with a Taser fired by a civilian during a May 26 fight at the Fireplace Bar in Everett, according to police reports obtained by The Herald.

A bystander called Everett police after Warbis and another man got into a shoving match inside the bar. The two men reportedly were arguing over a classic car parked outside. The men and witnesses disputed who started the fight.

No one was arrested. Everett police officers said there was no clear indication who was the primary aggressor. Everett city prosecutors later reviewed the police reports and witness statements. They declined to file charges against anyone.

It isn’t clear if Lake Stevens police officials conducted an internal investigation into the incident. They won’t say.

Warbis and fellow officer James Wellington earlier this month were named as defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit. A Lake Stevens man alleges that Warbis and Wellington unlawfully arrested him in June 2011.

Brandon Fenter claims that the two officers came to his Lake Stevens home the day after he encountered an off-duty Warbis in Marysville. Fenter alleges that he was driving when Warbis, who was walking with his family, waved him over. He reportedly accused Fenter of driving recklessly. He told Fenter he’d be sending him a citation in the mail.

The next day Fenter and his wife spotted two uniformed officers peering through their back fence.

Warbis reportedly asked, “Remember me?”

The Fenters allege that the officers cursed and demanded Fenter come outside. They also allege that Warbis and Wellington kicked open the gate, breaking the latch. Fenter was arrested and jailed. Marysville city prosecutors later dropped the charge.

Lake Stevens city officials recently requested mediation in an effort to resolve the lawsuit, said Fenter’s attorney, Justin Monro. His client has agreed to mediation before pursuing the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

“The city of Lake Stevens does not ignore allegations received of police misconduct both on or off-duty and takes such matters very seriously,” city Administrator Jan Berg wrote Friday in an email to The Herald, in response to questions about the Everett incident involving Warbis.

The officer remains on active duty, Berg added.

She declined to answer questions about whether Lake Stevens officials launched their own investigation into Warbis’ involvement in the Everett fight. She also said she couldn’t comment on the pending civil lawsuit.

It appears that an internal investigation was conducted into the June 2011 arrest, according to a letter sent by former police chief Randy Celori to Fenter in May.

Celori concluded that the officers were within their legal rights to arrest Fenter without a warrant, according to the letter. He also determined that the amount of force they used during the arrest was appropriate.

Celori, however, wrote that the officers’ “actions were not at the high level of professionalism” that he expected of them. He apologized to Fenter for the “negative experience.” The former chief wrote that he would be taking appropriate action to improve the officers’ performance and ensure that similar incidents were not repeated.

Last month, Celori resigned in lieu of termination. City officials have said his departure wasn’t connected to Fenter’s arrest.

It was about a week after Celori sent the letter about the 2011 arrest that Warbis was involved in the Everett bar fight.

The Herald recently obtained copies of the lengthy police report under the state’s public records law.

Witnesses told Everett police that Warbis was at the bar with relatives and friends, including another Lake Stevens officer. Two women with the group reportedly were seen leaning on a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda parked outside the bar. The girlfriend of the car’s owner asked the women not to sit on the car. She said they were welcome to take pictures with the car, however.

Warbis reportedly approached the car owner, his girlfriend and their friend inside the bar.

Witnesses gave different accounts of what happened next.

The man with the Taser and his friends said Warbis became confrontational, shouting and name-calling. The trio told him to go back to his table. The man with the Taser said Warbis shoved him to the ground. That’s when the man pulled out the Taser and fired. Two probes lodged in the off-duty officer’s forehead and Warbis fell to the ground.

The man said he was tackled by two other men, including Warbis’ brother and another Lake Stevens officer, according to the police report. The fight spilled outside. Witnesses said Warbis’ brother was choking the man before other bar patrons broke up the fight.

Warbis told Everett police that he had gone over to the group’s table to apologize about the car. He said the man with the Taser “chest bumped” him. Warbis said he pushed the man away to create some distance. That’s when the man shot him with the stun gun. Warbis said he didn’t remember what happened after that. He said he found himself lying on the ground outside the bar.

He told Everett officers he then walked away from the bar “to cool the situation down,” according to police reports. He said he returned when police officers arrived.

Two other witnesses, including the other Lake Stevens officer and Warbis’ sister, told police that the man with the Taser initiated the fight when he “chest bumped” Warbis.

The other Lake Stevens officer denied that he was involved in the altercation. He told Everett officers he heard the distinct “crack” sound of a Taser and saw Warbis fall. He went to him and removed the two barbs from Warbis’ head. He said he yelled “enough” at Warbis and escorted him down the street to calm him down. He said he saw Warbis’ brother in the middle of the scuffle.

Another bar patron, who didn’t know either party, said Warbis got in the other man’s face and shoved him. A woman, who also didn’t know the men, said they were “fighting equally, yelling and stepping up at each other.”

Everett police reported that they were unable to interview Warbis’ brother about the incident because he was highly intoxicated and belligerent. He was handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car while police investigated. He was not asked to give a written statement because “he was still hostile toward officers at the location, intoxicated and unable to communicate without yelling,” the officer wrote. He later was released.

Officers photographed Warbis and the other man, documenting their injuries. Everett firefighters were summoned to treat Warbis for his injuries. The other man said he didn’t need medical attention.

Rikki King contributed to this report.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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