MILL CREEK — Mill Creek Police Chief Greg Elwin has agreed to part ways with the city after an investigation concluded he engaged in “unbecoming” conduct and failed to report a “critical workplace safety issue,” the city announced Thursday.
The probe found Elwin did not arrest a relative living in his home, despite multiple outstanding warrants, and that he allowed the relative to drive freely with a suspended license. That’s according a letter that the city provided to The Daily Herald in response to a public records request.
Elwin also failed to report to City Manager Michael Ciaravino after learning that a city employee reportedly said it would be a good thing “if the city blew up,” Ciaravino wrote in the letter, which he emailed to the police chief on April 8.
Elwin, who had been instructed by the city not to speak publicly about the investigation, did not respond to a phone call and text message seeking comment Thursday.
He agreed to part ways with Mill Creek after Ciaravino told him in the letter that he intended to fire him based on the probe’s results, according to a city news release.
“Chief Elwin’s conduct eroded the City Manager’s trust and confidence in the Chief’s judgment and ability to represent the City’s best interests,” the release states.
The chief’s departure is the latest sign of turbulence in Mill Creek city government.
In April 2018, the police chief was one of four high-level city officials who highlighted issues with a past city manager’s behavior. According to a lawsuit filed against the city, all four of them faced retaliation for the move.
Elwin was placed on paid administrative leave Jan. 17 after the Mill Creek Police Officer’s Guild informed the city manager that the guild had voted no confidence in Elwin, documents show.
“There are many reasons for this vote,” the guild stated in a letter to the city manager, “but our overarching concerns include low morale under his leadership, a lack of honesty and integrity, poor management of resources, a lack of care for officer well-being and welfare, a disregard for bargaining rights and retaliation for union involvement, unpredictability in mood and work expectations, and simply being difficult to work with.”
Mill Creek hired Jennifer Parda-Aldrich, an attorney with the Bellevue law firm Sebris Busto James, to investigate the allegations.
The first phase of her investigation found a member of Elwin’s family crashed a car in Cowlitz County in April 2017, Ciaravino wrote in the letter last month. A Longview police officer found methamphetamine and marijuana in the car, and toxicology results show the driver’s blood tested positive for cocaine, according to the findings. The relative’s license was suspended amid a charge of driving under the influence.
The relative then moved into Elwin’s home and lived there until March 2020, driving regularly, the investigation found.
Elwin bailed the relative out of jail in December 2017, following an arrest in King County for failing to appear in court on the DUI charge in Cowlitz County, according to the investigation.
In July 2019, a Mill Creek police officer found multiple active arrest warrants for the relative and reported that information up the chain of command. Elwin then told the officer he would “take care of it” or “make sure that (his relative) takes care of it,” Ciaravino wrote.
The officer told the investigator that, at the time, there was “a lot of tension” between Elwin and the department’s officers.
“You could have informed subordinate police officers,” Ciaravino told Elwin in the letter, “that you expected them to enforce the law equally towards all members of the City of Mill Creek, especially including a family member who lived with you. Instead, when you learned that a subordinate police officer knew about your relative’s outstanding warrants, you invited him on a ‘walk’ and instructed him that you would ‘take care of it.’ Worse yet, you did nothing to take care of it.”
In November 2019, a Mill Creek police officer stopped the relative and — in consultation with his supervisor — decided to ask for help from the Washington State Patrol. That day, the state patrol arrested the relative on warrants. But “ultimately,” Ciaravino said in the letter, the relative wasn’t taken into custody. Instead, the officer drove the relative to Elwin’s home.
“Your actions have eroded my trust and confidence in your judgment and led to poor morale amongst the law enforcement team that you are responsible for leading,” Ciaravino wrote. “For these reasons, I can no longer place the lives of police officers and our community’s public safety in your hands.”
The alleged threatening remark from a city employee came on May 30, 2019, according to Ciaravino’s letter. A day later, then-Deputy Chief Scott Eastman informed Elwin of the comment after hearing about it from the city’s human resources manager, the letter says.
The employee had “a checkered history with the city,” Ciaravino wrote. The city manager learned about the comments for the first time on Oct. 28, after the same employee “made escalated threats against a City supervisor.”
Elwin told Ciaravino in an Oct. 28 email that the comment hadn’t been reported to the police department. And even after Eastman reminded Elwin about their earlier conversation, the police chief never followed up with the city manager.
“You neglected to consider the safety of our community, our officers, and our workforce when you failed to report material information to me about the City employee’s threatening comment,” Ciaravino told Elwin in the letter.
Elwin said to the investigator that he thought Ciaravino was asking about written reports. He only vaguely recalled the day that Eastman originally reported the comment to him, he said.
Eastman reportedly told Ciaravino that he knew the employee who made the comment was sometimes in Elwin’s office, “chatting (him) up.” The employee was later placed on administrative leave so the city could investigate the incident, and Elwin escorted her out of the building and “embraced her in an extended hug,” Ciaravino said in the letter.
“Did your personal friendship with the employee have any impact on your decision not to disclose this comment to me?” he wrote.
Mill Creek released Ciaravino’s 10-page letter in response to a public records request Thursday afternoon, around the same time as the announcement that Elwin had lost his employment. The 400-word news release said the city would make no other public comment, “due to ongoing personnel concerns related to the above events.”
Under the terms of Elwin’s separation agreement, he was employed through May 1, but “did not receive any cash payment” from the city, according to the release.
Eastman, who has been appointed the department’s acting chief, will continue in that role, the release says.
The city is planning an audit of the department’s management practices.