State Patrol losing all of its top leaders

By Cathy Logg

Herald Writer

The Washington State Patrol’s three top leaders are retiring this month, and Gov. Gary Locke has yet to name the patrol’s new chief.

Acting chief Robert Leichner and field operations bureau Cmdr. Tom Robbins retire June 28, and assistant chief Robert Lopez retires June 21. The patrol plans a coffee-and-cake send-off for the trio with patrol members on June 18 in Olympia.

Asked if the patrol has a backup plan in case the new chief isn’t on board before the others leave, patrol spokesman Capt. Eric Robertson said: "I don’t know. That’s up to the governor. The appointment of an acting chief is a statutory appointment, and the chief is a member of the governor’s cabinet. There’s certainly a succession. What’s critical is there will be an acting chief, and that’ll be up to the governor."

The governor could not be reached for comment Friday.

Meanwhile, a trial board has been scheduled for a state police officer recently disciplined by the patrol. Lt. Helmut Steele will get his hearing July 30 through Aug. 2. It is unclear whether the hearing will be in Olympia or Everett.

Steele, 46, was reduced from captain to lieutenant, suspended for 30 days and reassigned from the Marysville District 7 headquarters to Bremerton.

He previously was the district commander, overseeing patrol operations in Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties.

The patrol determined that Steele was guilty of mismanagement and harassing and intimidating a trooper. Steele’s appeal will be heard by the trial board.

His supporters and critics of the patrol’s current and former administration have asked Locke for an independent review of Steele’s case.

You can call Herald Writer Cathy Logg at 425-339-3437

or send e-mail to logg@heraldnet.com.

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