Jim Lawless (left) and Sherman Pruitt are the two candidates for police chief. (City of Edmonds)

Jim Lawless (left) and Sherman Pruitt are the two candidates for police chief. (City of Edmonds)

Edmonds forum hijacked with racist and lewd disruption

Sherman Pruitt, a police chief candidate and person of color, was interrupted three times.

EDMONDS — An online public forum for the city’s two police chief candidates was hijacked three times Monday night with inappropriate language, as well as racist and lewd images.

Sherman Pruitt, a person of color in the running to take over the city’s police department, was taking questions when someone interrupted. Because the city has not released the meeting audio, it’s not clear exactly what was said. Next, someone displayed racist and pornographic images, according to people who watched the meeting.

Pruitt and interim Chief Jim Lawless are in the running to fill the position.

“Last night a pathetic, hate-filled coward disrupted our Police Chief public forum on Zoom,” Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson said in a statement Tuesday. “I have directed our Police Department to investigate this as a crime and bring to light who this pathetic offender is. We are also reaching out to the FBI for cyber assistance to track down the perpetrators.”

“It’s a tragedy that such individuals who harbor hatred and vile thoughts sit alone in their basements at a computer with nothing better to do than disrupt public forums with lewd and racist messages and imagery,” he continued. “… Moving forward we are reviewing other meeting options for engaging the community that will have additional protections in place to ensure no one in our community feels unsafe or subjected to racist attacks when participating in these forums.”

The forum, like all city meetings, was recorded. However, the city removed the video from its archive and plans to re-upload it with the disruption removed.

“We’re not sharing it,” Patrick Doherty, the city’s community services director, said in an email. “It was hateful, lewd and offensive speech, writing and images.”

Monday night’s racist interruption was not the first to happen this year in Snohomish County.

Someone bombarded a June 4 Snohomish City Council meeting with racial slurs and death threats aimed toward people of color. It happened as people called in with concerns about racism in the city, after a May 31 gathering downtown where some people carried guns and displayed symbols related to white supremacy.

Snohomish City Administrator Steve Schuller does not believe anyone ever found out who was responsible. Nothing like that has happened again.

Since then, city meetings have been set up differently, and the meeting platform Zoom has added more security measures. City staff have also received further training on its use, Schuller said.

This also was not the first racist incident to occur this year in Edmonds.

During the summer, a 70-year-old man was charged with vandalizing “I Can’t Breathe” artwork at Civic Field. Around that same time, the city council’s student liaison lashed out against the Black Lives Matter movement during a meeting.

Before the disruption, Monday’s forum was intended to be an opportunity for residents to interact with the two finalists to become the next police chief.

Former Chief Al Compaanretired at the end of December 2019. The city has been searching for a replacement ever since, though Lawless has been filling in.

Compaan worked at the department for more than 40 years. He had served as chief since 2007, taking over after former Chief David Stern died suddenly from a brain aneurysm.

Lawless has worked for the Edmonds Police Department for 25 years, half that time as assistant chief.

He has a master’s degree in public administration, a masters certificate in law enforcement management, as well as a bachelor’s degree in sociology, psychology and criminal justice. He also is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, according to the city.

Pruitt is the police chief, director of public safety and emergency management services for the Sauk-Suiattle Police Department near Darrington. Before that, Pruitt was the interim chief for the Tulalip Police Department.

He has worked in law enforcement for 14 years and also has served in the Marine Corps and the Washington Air National Guard. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration and has received extensive training through leadership programs, the city said in a news release.

In response to Monday night’s incident, the Edmonds City Council postponed its Tuesday night meetings while staff look into new security measures.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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

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