State Patrol captain abruptly transferred


Herald Writer

The area commander for the Washington State Patrol was unexpectedly reassigned to Olympia Monday amid allegations that he violated agency regulations.

A patrol spokesman Tuesday acknowledged that the agency is investigating "some allegations that need to be sorted out" levied against Capt. Helmut Steele, area commander for the past four years. Spokesman Capt. Eric Robertson declined to reveal the nature of the allegations.

This is the second time in the last two months that a senior officer from the Marysville-based District 7 has run into problems.

However, the reassignment of Steele and the intended suspension of 35-year veteran Lt. Walt Fisch are not connected, Robertson said Tuesday.

Fisch was notified last week that the agency intends to suspend him for 10 days without pay for an alleged infraction that was not made public. Fisch, who has an otherwise unblemished record, is nearing the end of his career. He said he will fight the suspension to keep his record clean and wants a public airing of the allegations.

Robertson said the patrol doesn’t consider Steele’s reassignment a disciplinary action.

"He’s just been reassigned," Robertson said. "They are going to take a look at the allegations, and once that review is complete they’ll look at the facts behind the issue and make permanent assignments."

Steele’s new job is with the Field Operations Bureau headquarters in Olympia "until we are able to sort through the issues in District 7," Robertson said.

The situation involving the two senior officers has been unsettling within the district, said Leann Paluck, a Tacoma lawyer who represents the union covering patrol lieutenants and captains.

She said she has heard "people are not real thrilled with what’s going on," Paluck said. "I’ve only heard that (troopers) appear to be a little shaken."

In her experience, Paluck said it’s rare that problems have beset two senior officers from the same area in so short a time.

What’s going on?

"I wish I had more of an answer for you," she said. "I’m working on trying to figure that out for myself and my clients."

The lawyer said she has not been told specifically what the allegations are against Steele. She’s only been told in general terms what regulations allegedly were violated. She declined to identify those regulations without more specific information. She did confirm it was more than one regulation.

While Steele, a 25-year veteran, is reassigned to Olympia, a temporary new commander of District 7 was moved in from King County.

Capt. Tim Quenzer, who has been the District 2 commander in Bellevue, has been named acting commander of the Marysville Patrol detachment. District 7 covers all of northwest Washington, including Snohomish County.

Lt. Steve McCulley has been named acting director of the Bellevue detachment, which covers King County, Robertson said.

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