Sultan’s ex-police chief files $10 million claim

SULTAN — Former Police Chief Fred Walser has filed a $10 million claim for damages against the city of Sultan, but his attorney said what the embattled chief really wants is his reputation restored.

Walser was forced to resign by the city when it was planning to eliminate the police department and contract instead with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office for police protection, said the former chief’s lawyer, J.C. Becker of Mill Creek. The city eventually abandoned its plan to contract with the sheriff’s office.

The resignation also came under a cloud, when Walser was placed under investigation for improperly handling personnel matters within the department.

Under the law, Walser must first file a claim against the city before he can file a lawsuit. The city has 60 days to accept or reject the claim. After that, Becker can file the suit, he said.

Mayor Ben Tolson said anyone has the right to file a lawsuit.

“Do I feel his lawsuit has merit? No, I do not,” Tolson said. “Do I feel we will be vindicated? Yes, I feel the city will be vindicated.”

The claim stems from a series of confrontations over several years between Walser and various city officials.

The claim alleges that city officials conspired to violate Walser’s constitutional rights, harassed him and unlawfully withheld benefits Walser earned during more than 11 years as police chief.

“He offered to settle with the city for no money,” Becker said Friday. “All he wants is a hearing. All he wanted from day one was to clear his name.”

Walser is a retired Washington State Patrol trooper of 28 years. He was recruited to head the police department in 1995 by former Mayor Robert Broughton. The claim says Broughton and Walser planned to expand the department and increase its professionalism.

Over the years, other city officials disagreed with the plan and pushed to either decrease the department’s size or eliminate it in favor of a contract with the sheriff, the claim says.

City officials attempted to eliminate the department in 2004 and 2006.

Walser, 66, was placed on paid administrative leave in June. He had been involved in two investigations into allegations of wrongdoing at the police department.

One investigation was conducted at Walser’s request by the State Patrol. It involved alleged misuse of a city computer by a police department employee. The employee was fired in September.

Walser said earlier that he believes he is the focus of a second investigation involving allegations that the former chief withheld information from the city attorney related to the computer-misuse investigation.

The Everett Police Department is leading the second investigation. Tolson, who declined to elaborate, said the probe should be complete in a few weeks.

Walser also alleges that Tolson went on a campaign to defame him, posting “false information” on Internet sites.

Tolson has publicly apologized.

“I stuck my keyboard in my mouth,” Tolson said. The mayor said he reacted out of frustration and he since has apologized to the City Council and others. If Walser is cleared in the investigation, Tolson said he also would apologize to the former chief.

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or jhaley@heraldnet.com.

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