Jim Lawless (left) and Sherman Pruitt

Jim Lawless (left) and Sherman Pruitt

Edmonds City Council confirms Pruitt as next chief of police

The controversial vote followed an hour of public comment and multiple calls to delay the decision.

EDMONDS — Sherman Pruitt will be the next police chief for the city of Edmonds.

After hours of debate and multiple calls for a delay, the Edmonds City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to confirm Pruitt, the current chief for the Sauk-Suiattle Police Department near Darrington. He was appointed to the position last week by Mayor Mike Nelson, instead of interim Chief Jim Lawless.

Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and members Luke Distelhorst, Laura Johnson and Susan Paine voted to confirm Pruitt, while council members Diane Buckshnis, Kristiana Johnson and Vivian Olson voted against the appointment.

Tuesday night’s council meeting was one of the most contentious of the year.

During the public comment section, more than a dozen Edmonds residents spoke about the two candidates, with most asking council members to give the job to Lawless, or delay the vote.

That included the city’s previous police chief, Al Compaan, whom Pruitt is to replace.

Compaan said he was troubled by the city’s lack of transparency, and called the council’s conduct “sleazy.”

“If council moves forward with this tonight, with the number of unanswered questions that remain, shame on this council and shame on the mayor,” Compaan said.

Darnesha Weary, a Black woman who served on a panel of residents that interviewed both Pruitt and Lawless, also spoke.

She said her family has experienced racism in town, including someone calling the police on her husband while they were house shopping.

Confirming Chief Pruitt, who is Black, brings an opportunity for the city’s police department to repair its relationship with Black residents, she said.

In total, the public comment period lasted for more than an hour.

Several speakers, and a few council members, questioned Pruitt’s qualifications for the job.

Edmonds city code includes some requirements for chief candidates pertaining to years of service and certifications.

Pruitt, who previously served as interim chief for the Tulalip Tribes, with more than a decade of experience in the military, meets all of them, city Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson said.

Additionally, the city checked 14 professional and personal references for Pruitt, she said, including previous supervisors or colleagues with the Tulalip Tribes, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI.

Pruitt also passed a lie-detector test.

“I believe we have done a very thorough background on the candidate,” Neill Hoyson said.

Council members Kristiana Johnson and Buckshnis both asked for more time to deliberate, though their motions failed.

The vote to confirm Pruitt was originally scheduled for next week’s council meeting but was pushed to Tuesday night to put an end to the matter, which has resulted in online harassment for both candidates, council President Fraley-Monillas said.

The yearlong search to replace former Chief Compaan has been rocky.

In April, Nelson announced that he’d appoint Lawless, who has been with the department for more than 20 years, for the permanent position.

But city code requires the mayor to interview more than one candidate, and the city council didn’t let him subvert that rule.

In October, Pruitt and Lawless were selected as the two finalists and participated in an online public forum, where Pruitt was interrupted multiples times with inappropriate language, as well as racist and pornographic images.

Last week, the mayor’s decision to appoint Pruitt brought numerous calls for the city’s leaders to reconsider, and choose Lawless instead.

On Monday, in a statement on Facebook, Lawless said he was disappointed in Nelson’s decision but respected the choice.

“I realize that the current situation has generated a great deal of emotion on both sides; individuals have a right to express their opinions but I would ask that everyone refrain from personal attacks of any kind,” he wrote.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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