MILL CREEK — Police Chief Greg Elwin is under a city investigation for a slew of blistering allegations, including that he associated with criminals, used his position for personal gain, and was “dishonest or disgraceful,” according to city records.
Elwin was placed on paid administrative leave on Jan. 17 after the Mill Creek Police Officer’s Guild informed City Manager Michael Ciaravino that day that the guild had voted no confidence in Elwin, according to documents the city provided to The Daily Herald in response to a public records request.
“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.”
The guild did not cite specific instances of misconduct, but notified the city that examples could be provided, if needed.
Elwin, who has been instructed by the city not to speak publicly about the investigation, did not respond to a phone call and text message seeking comment Tuesday. The misconduct investigation was first made public by the Mill Creek Beacon.
The city evaluated the allegations raised by the guild and notified Elwin on Feb. 6 that there was “sufficient” basis for a formal investigation, according to a letter from Ciaravino to the police chief.
Ciaravino wrote that the investigation would review allegations that Elwin:
■ Knowingly associated “on a personal basis” with people who “demonstrate recurring involvement with violations of state or federal laws or who have a reputation in the community or with the Police Department for present involvement in criminal behavior;”
■ Used his status as the department’s leader for his own benefit, trying to “gain influence or authority for non-department business or activity” and get privileges he otherwise wouldn’t have had;
■ Misused or mismanaged police department resources;
■ Engaged in conduct that was “unbecoming” of the police department. At least one alleged incident involved “moral turpitude,” the letter says, although it does not elaborate;
■ Treated those he oversees or other city employees in a way that was “discourteous, disrespectful or discriminatory” and failed to control his temper;
■ Lied or made “misleading or malicious” statements to the detriment of the department or city;
■ Violated the department’s safety standards and practices.
Ciaravino told Elwin in the letter that he would remain on paid administrative leave until the investigation was done or the city informed him otherwise.
Scott Eastman, who was deputy chief of police for Mill Creek, has been appointed the department’s acting chief.
Ciaravino did not immediately respond to a phone call or email Tuesday seeking updates on the status of the probe and Elwin’s employment status. But the city manager warned in the Feb. 6 letter that, depending on the outcome of the investigation, Elwin may face termination or other disciplinary action.
The city manager also instructed the police chief to contact the acting chief to surrender his gun and badge.
Ciaravino told Elwin he’s prohibited from talking to “anyone” concerning the investigation, “other than the investigator, your attorney, health care provider, law enforcement conducting an investigation, or clergyperson.”
The city retained Jennifer Parda-Aldrich, an attorney with Sebris Busto James, to conduct the investigation, Ciaravino said in the letter.
The Bellevue-based firm bills itself as “one of the top firms in Washington state representing employers since 1992 in the areas of labor and employment law representation, and human resources management counseling and training,” according to its website.
Guild President Jesse Mack and Vice President Steve Smith wrote in the Jan. 17 letter to Ciaravino that members had raised their concerns to Elwin “on many occasions” but “seen no meaningful change.”
Mack and Smith added that members fear retaliation from Elwin for the vote of no confidence.
“We expect that you will promptly investigate and take seriously any claims of retaliation, should they occur,” the guild’s leaders told the city manager.
The guild did not respond to a Herald reporter’s inquiries Tuesday.
In the Feb. 6 letter and a follow-up email, Ciaravino warned Elwin not to take any retaliatory actions over the allegations.
Questions about the police chief’s fate are the latest signs of strife in the Snohomish County city of roughly 20,000.
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 that’s been filed against the city, all four of them faced retaliation for the move.
The city cut ties with former City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto in fall 2018 amid allegations that she misused her city credit card and bullied staff. Mill Creek spent nearly $50,0000 on probes that found Polizzotto charged personal expenses on the credit card, manipulated reimbursement files and created a toxic work environment at City Hall. Polizzotto, however, has denied those conclusions, saying she “did not engage in abusive behavior.”
Former city spokeswoman Joni Kirk later alleged in a lawsuit, filed in Snohomish County Superior Court in December, that she was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for reporting the ex-city manager’s misconduct.
Her lawsuit says that Mill Creek Mayor Pam Pruitt wanted to oust her and the three other “whistleblowers,” including Elwin. Pruitt wrote “negative articles” regarding the four of them that were published in the local press and addressed them “in an antagonistic manner” during meetings, the lawsuit alleges.
The city previously denied Kirk’s claim that she was wrongfully terminated, saying in a past news release that she “showed poor judgment in the handling of an employment situation, including recording a private meeting on her personal cell phone without consent and failing to disclose the recording to the public records officer when records requests were made.”