BRIER — Within weeks of hiring officer Dan Anderson, the Brier Police Department documented concerns about his performance, driving ability and knowledge of criminal law.
Anderson had retired from the Washington State Patrol on Dec. 25, after 25 years as a trooper. He started work in Brier on Dec. 28 and was fired Aug. 15.
The next day, he stood before TV cameras, saying he was fired for leaving Brier on July 30 to assist Mukilteo officers with the mass shooting that left three dead and another wounded. He was the only Brier officer on duty that morning. The crime scene was about 10 miles away.
Anderson’s story went national, and City Hall received hundreds of angry phone calls and emails about his firing.
Documents made public on Thursday show the city had decided to fire Anderson on July 18, nearly two weeks before the Mukilteo shootings.
The Daily Herald obtained Anderson’s personnel file through a public records request. The request was made Aug. 18, after the city issued a press release about the firing but declined to answer questions.
The press release said Anderson’s comments about his firing were not accurate or complete.
The new records show the former officer had numerous problems on the job. They also reveal that he and the police chief are now threatening to sue each other.
Anderson, 51, was paid a salary in Brier of about $65,000 a year.
When he applied for unemployment benefits in August, he listed the Mukilteo shootings as his reason for being fired, records show.
In response, City Clerk Paula Swisher wrote the state unemployment department that Brier had decided on July 18 to terminate Anderson for “overall job performance” and “numerous errors.” The city didn’t tell Anderson he was being let go because it was in the process of hiring his replacement, Swisher wrote.
In an interview with the newspaper on Thursday, Anderson said he was unaware of plans to terminate his employment before July 30. He stood by his earlier statements.
He and the city agree on at least one thing: His previous job patrolling state highways on a motorcycle was different from working in a tiny town in south Snohomish County with just six officers on the payroll. The city is home to about 6,100 people and a cluster of businesses on a single block. It’s routine for a Brier officer to go an entire shift without an emergency call in town.
Records from January show Anderson had problems finding local schools and other addresses after 911 calls. One officer wrote that he advised Anderson to “slow down and paint a picture in his head of the route he should take to get to a location.”
Anderson had trouble hearing his calls on the radio and keeping his radio turned on, records show. His supervisors also documented issues with how he pulled people over, saying he did not observe routine safety precautions, and that he showed up late for work too often.
On Jan. 21, roughly three weeks into the job, Anderson was told his lack of understanding of the city’s geography was “unacceptable and dangerous.”
On March 2, a training officer wrote that Anderson was improving, “but on multiple occasions, after coaching, he still fails to meet the performance standard.” That officer said it was his opinion that Anderson was not a good fit for the city and had not responded to training.
In the margins of the training plan was a handwritten note about offering help to neighboring agencies: “Don’t go unless invited — except for something major.”
Anderson said he also has sought his personnel file but as of Thursday afternoon had not been supplied the same documents the newspaper obtained through a public records request.
He described himself as a hard worker who is passionate about fighting crime, especially drunken driving. He cited his time with the State Patrol and 22 years of service in multiple branches of the military and reserves.
He denied any confusion with Brier’s geography, saying by the time he was fired, he knew the city like “a Swiss watch.”
“Have I made good honest normal mistakes? Yeah,” Anderson said. “Nothing you would fire anyone for, nothing that I’ve ever seen anyone get fired for.”
Anderson said he had last spoken to Brier Police Chief Mike Catlett about a week before his firing. At that time, he said the chief told him he was making progress. He said he was told to “slow down” on traffic stops and arrests.
The chief drafted a statement last month, in which he declined to comment on Anderson’s television interviews.
Anderson, meanwhile, alleges that Catlett told him in person that he was fired because he “left the city of Brier unprotected to go to the Mukilteo shooting.”
His termination letter, also a public record, does not cite a reason. Anderson was still on probation as a new employee at the time.
In recent days, the dispute between Anderson and the chief has gotten more complicated.
Anderson said he received a letter earlier this week from Catlett’s attorney. Anderson declined to provide a copy. The city released it Thursday in response to another public records request.
In the Aug. 25 letter, Catlett’s attorney accused Anderson of making harmful and untrue allegations. The attorney said Anderson was using a “tragic incident as a crutch to falsely portray your dismissal.”
Anderson was encouraged to retract his statements and apologize or risk being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
On Wednesday, Anderson emailed a copy of the threatening letter to Mayor Bob Colinas, records show. Anderson told the mayor he was getting his own attorney. Anderson wrote that if Catlett sought damages, he would release the chief’s lawsuit threat to reporters. He also said he would “rescind my earlier promise to not pursue litigation.”
In the email, Anderson asked for his final paycheck to be mailed so he didn’t have to stop by his former workplace. “I will no longer awkwardly accept Chief Catlett’s handshakes,” he wrote.
Anderson and the city still have differing views on what should have happened after the gunfire in Mukilteo.
Brier and Mukilteo are separated by Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and unincorporated neighborhoods. The mayor has argued that larger departments, some of which share borders with Mukilteo and had more than one officer on duty that morning, were better poised to help.
Anderson said he heard a request on the radio for any officers available. He said he was part of the second wave of law enforcement to arrive, and he was asked to help search the house.
Colinas said Anderson should have checked with his chief before leaving Brier.
The mayor also said he supports Brier officers in assisting neighboring agencies, if they follow department policy and exercise sound judgment, “so as to not put the citizens of Brier at potential risk for lack of available police service.”
Anderson said he is applying for new work in law enforcement. He has taken a job in private security for now, he said.
In his application to Brier, Anderson said he was retiring from the State Patrol and hoped to earn a new paycheck to supplement his retirement. He said he had applied unsuccessfully with police departments in Edmonds, Everett and Mountlake Terrace, as well as agencies in King and Skagit counties.