Tacoma police chief reprimanded in Zina Linnik case

Zina case: Police boss misled city manager

April 30, 2011 

In a sudden about-face, Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson announced Friday that he has reprimanded Police Chief Don Ramsdell for withholding information regarding the Zina Linnik investigation.

The reprimand does not concern the chief’s misleading of the news media about why the issuance of an Amber Alert was delayed after the 12-year-old girl was abducted July 4, 2007.

Instead, Anderson told The News Tribune on Friday, Ramsdell did not divulge to him that Police Department spokesman Mark Fulghum was on-call during the early morning hours of July 5, 2007, when he went back to sleep instead of issuing the alert as requested.

Anderson said he thought Fulghum was off duty, until an inquiry from The News Tribune this week brought to light the fact that the police spokesman was being paid to be on call that morning.

Ramsdell should have set him straight during multiple conversations this week and last regarding Fulghum’s actions and status, Anderson told the newspaper’s editorial board.

“I did not know that, and I should have been told that,” the city manager said. “You can make this mistake once, but I think you can’t make it twice. I wasn’t informed, and action was necessary.”

In previous interviews, Anderson was willing to forgive Ramsdell for not divulging publicly that Fulghum had fallen asleep that morning.

The city manager also announced he ordered Ramsdell to initiate an internal affairs investigation to determine whether Fulghum, who he previously said made a forgivable human error, violated Police Department policy by taking an over-the-counter sleep aid before going to bed about 1 a.m. July 5.

“He was on standby pay, which changes his status,” Anderson said. “It changes his obligations.”

Police Department personnel must be “ready to act” when on-call, the city manager said.

Fulghum said in a deposition filed in a wrongful death suit brought against the city and other governments by Linnik’s family that he took one Advil and one Advil PM before going to bed.

“We do not know that he violated policy,” Anderson told the newspaper. “The issue has been raised.”

Fulghum, who’s been with the department for nearly 31 years, remains on duty while the internal investigation runs its course. He has not been disciplined for his handling of the Amber Alert.

The city also will hire an independent, outside consultant to review the way the Police Department investigated Linnik’s disappearance and murder “from beginning to end,” Anderson said.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland said the actions were needed to repair what she called the “fragile relationship” between the Police Department and the community.

Fulghum referred a call seeking comment from him and the chief to City Hall spokesman Rob McNair-Huff. A message left on Ramsdell’s voice mail went unanswered.

McNair-Huff offered no statement on behalf of the men, saying only that the City Manager’s Office is keeping police personnel apprised of what’s going on.

Anderson continues to have faith in the department and thinks it did “a fantastic job” in investigating Zina’s abduction and murder, McNair-Huff said.

On Tuesday, Anderson and Strickland, flanked by City Council members, said at a news conference that no further actions needed to be taken against Ramsdell and Fulghum in the wake of News Tribune reports about Fulghum’s sleeping and that he and the chief misled the public about it.

Fulghum’s sleeping came to light in records recently filed in a lawsuit brought by Linnik’s family against the city, Pierce County and the State of Washington. That lawsuit is to go to trial in King County Superior Court in September.

Fulghum said in a November deposition that he fell back to sleep after receiving a 4 a.m. phone call from a detective sergeant asking him to issue an Amber Alert. The alerts inform the public about abducted children and provide details that might help law enforcement rescue them.

The detective’s call came about six hours after Zina was abducted from behind her home July 4, 2007. The alert did not go out until about 10 a.m. July 5.

Convicted sex offender Terapon Adhahn confessed to and was convicted of abducting, raping and killing the girl. He’s serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Police Department’s handling of the Amber Alert and whether a quicker issuance would have helped Zina have been a source of controversy from the beginning.

They also are the crux of the Linnik family’s lawsuit against the city. The family claims the city was negligent in not issuing the alert sooner.

Adhahn told FBI agents he accidentally killed Zina not long after snatching her. The girl died of blunt -force trauma to the head with asphyxia as a contributing factor, the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded.

Attorneys from the Linnik family say that’s not been proved definitively and have hired experts to investigate the cause and time of her death.

In 2007, Fulghum and Ramsdell told the news media the delay in issuing the Amber Alert occurred because detectives needed more time to firm up details used in the alert. They did not mention Fulghum’s sleeping. Neither did an after-action report on the Zina investigation performed by the department.

Ramsdell apologized April 21 for not being forthcoming about the real reason for the delay, and Anderson said he had no plans to punish the chief.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Anderson reiterated that he didn’t think Ramsdell or Fulghum had acted inappropriately and said he didn’t think Ramsdell had lied to the media.

Before the news conference, The News Tribune formally requested Fulghum’s time card from July 4 and July 5, 2007.

The records show Fulghum was paid 15 hours of holiday and overtime pay on July 4. On July 5, he was paid eight hours of regular pay, 51/2 hours of overtime and 101/2 hours of “standby” pay. Standby pay is $2 per hour.

It was during the course of responding to the newspaper’s inquiry that Anderson said he first learned that the police spokesman was on call during the early-morning hours of July 5.

“I did not know that,” Anderson said.

As the department’s public information officer, Fulghum is considered on-call 24 hours per day, seven days a week unless he makes arrangements for someone else to cover for him, McNair-Huff said.

Anderson placed the written reprimand in Ramsdell’s personnel file Thursday. It will remain there for two years. The chief was not docked any pay or otherwise punished.

Anderson shared the letter with The News Tribune on Friday. It reads:

“I reprimand you for your failure to meet my expectations of Department Directors at the City of Tacoma regarding sharing pertinent information in a timely and appropriate way.

“Your failure to provide such information in the case of the Amber Alert in the Zina Linnik investigation has created much misunderstanding and suspicion, resulting in a breach of trust, although it was not intended as such.

“This letter is intended to serve as a corrective action and to ensure the sharing of timely and complete information in the future.”

Anderson also sent an email to members of the Police Department informing them of his actions.

“I remain confident in the outstanding work that Chief Ramsdell and the Police Department carry out every day in ensuring the safety of our citizens,” he wrote.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644 adam.lynn@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/crime

Staff writer Lewis Kamb contributed to this report.

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