Granite Falls ex-police chief focus of investigation

GRANITE FALLS — Past problems handling cash at the Granite Falls Police Department were so serious that the city recently returned roughly $2,000, apparently seized in violation of state law.

Exactly what went wrong is in dispute, but investigators believe criminal charges may be warranted against former Police Chief Tony Domish.

Domish was police chief from 2006 until 2010 and has since taken a job as chief at the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department in Klickitat County, near the Oregon border. He denied any wrongdoing Wednesday.

“I knew this was happening,” he said of the investigation. “I just didn’t know it’d go this far.”

The concerns in Granite Falls are laid out in a nine-page affidavit sent last week to Snohomish County prosecutors for review. Marysville police detectives conducted the investigation. They suggest evidence could support two felony theft and misappropriation charges, plus more than a dozen counts of alleged misdemeanor official misconduct.

No charges have been filed. The report was obtained by The Herald under state public records laws.

Granite Falls officials requested an outside investigation after the new police chief, Dennis Taylor, found trouble in how evidence was handled.

The case was assigned to a detective on Nov. 8, Marysville police Cmdr. Robb Lamoureux said.

“At this point, it’s up to the prosecutor’s office to decide what they want to do with it,” he said.

Taylor started as interim chief in September 2010. At the time, he ordered a thorough audit of the evidence room, a standard move for incoming police chiefs and sheriffs, he said.

“The audit turned up some huge discrepancies in the money, cash, in the evidence room, and it had to do with the drug investigation that the former chief did,” he said.

Domish ran a controversial two-year investigation into drug-dealing in Granite Falls. The probe made waves as much for its messiness and supposed political intrigue as it did for targeting crime. Among those snapped up was Floyd “Butch” DeRosia, a former Granite Falls mayor who wound up doing a few months in jail after being convicted of dealing marijuana.

After the audit, Taylor hired Fred Helfers, a semi-retired detective who specializes in drug-case seizures. Helfers reviewed Granite Falls’ assets and seizures procedures, protocols and paperwork. Helfers recommended an outside criminal investigation, Taylor said.

Marysville detectives since have closely reviewed 17 Granite Falls cases involving cash evidence going back to 2000. They found evidence of $1,057 that was legally seized under forfeiture laws. They also found evidence that $4,100 was illegally listed as forfeited or was otherwise converted for police use. Of that money, about $925 remains unaccounted for, according to the investigation report.

The questioned forfeitures and conversions that could lead to criminal charges all reportedly happened during two days in February 2009.

Detectives believe the missing money was somehow connected to Domish’s controversial Granite Falls drug investigation.

On Wednesday, Domish said he never had access to the cash and had been told there was no missing money.

He knew Marysville was investigating but said he had been playing phone tag with the detective and was unaware the case had been sent to prosecutors.

The investigators allege that Domish instructed a former police department employee to search the evidence room for cases that involved cash for potential use in drug investigations.

Documents apparently were falsified or policies and procedures governing seizures and forfeitures ignored, according to the investigation report. People did not receive proper notification that their property had been seized.

The assets included money that was found and turned in to police, as well as money that was somehow associated with suspected drug trafficking.

In many of the cases, the cash was improperly categorized as being drug forfeiture money, according to the report.

The allegations now are in the hands of prosecutors.

“We received a referral, and no decision has been made,” Snohomish County chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney Joan Cavagnaro said Wednesday. “It’s under review at this time.”

The investigation included cases handled before Domish became chief and after he took charge.

All the cases examined from longtime chief Chuck Allen’s tenure followed Washington law and demonstrated that Granite Falls police had properly followed seizure and forfeiture protocols, the report said.

After Allen left the department, he ran into unrelated legal trouble. He was sentenced last year to five years in prison for a scam that bilked more than $625,000 from developmentally disabled people.

Domish left his Granite Falls job after months of friction with Mayor Haroon Saleem.

Domish resigned after reaching a settlement with the city. As part of the agreement, the city agreed to drop an internal investigation of Domish, who agreed not to bring a lawsuit against the city.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office investigated allegations that Domish failed to tell prosecutors about criminal cases, ignored complaints about his police department, had naked pictures of women on his work computer and refused to leave his offices when placed on administrative leave.

He denied any wrongdoing.

“I want to be very clear that I didn’t take the settlement offer because of any concerns I had with the investigation,” Domish said at the time. “The bottom line is I didn’t want to work for (the mayor) and it was a very, very difficult decision to make.”

Domish received a severance package of more than $78,000.

Taylor since has put police administrative services manager Paula Hutchinson in charge of the property room, he said. The department sent letters to everyone thought to have had money illegally seized or taken under forfeiture. Not everyone has responded.

They’ve also updated department paperwork and procedures regarding seizures and forfeitures to be in accordance with state law and best practices, Taylor said.

“I want to assure people, the community, the citizens, that we have a good handle on this, that we’ve had a good handle on this for over a year,” he said.

Much of the money that was improperly taken was from people known to law enforcement who have criminal and drug history, Taylor said.

The chief said he couldn’t share what kinds of property have been returned or might be, but he said the items do not include drugs, guns or stolen goods.

If anyone believes they had money seized improperly by Granite Falls police, they should come to the police department and bring identification, Taylor said.

“I encourage that, even if you have a criminal record,” he said.

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

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