Maybe a community can get along just fine without watchdogs.
Maybe we should just trust government leaders to tell us the truth and to hold one another accountable.
Then again, maybe not.
On Friday, for the second time in a week, the citizens of Tacoma learned that their police chief had misled them, but only after News Tribune reporters dug a little deeper and asked another question.
If not for the work of two TNT reporters, the chief would not have been reprimanded and no one would be reviewing the Tacoma Police Department’s behavior.
If not for the work of those reporters, you would not know.
Courts reporter Adam Lynn was part of a TNT team that began asking an important question immediately after the July 4, 2007, abduction of 12-year-old Zina Linnik from her Tacoma home: Why had police waited 12 hours to issue an Amber Alert seeking the public’s help in finding Zina?
Lynn and others pressed for months, but repeatedly were told the delay was intentional to allow police to gather more information.
Lynn has stayed on the story as the Linnik family’s wrongful death lawsuit against the city, county and state advances through the court system. About two weeks ago, he read through a sworn deposition by police spokesman Mark Fulghum.
In it, Fulghum said he was at home July 5, 2007, when he received a 4 a.m. phone call from a detective asking him to issue the alert, but he fell back to sleep rather than issuing it. That in itself was news, which we broke in a story April 20.
Lynn went back to our archives to see how Fulghum and Police Chief Don Ramsdell explained the delay in 2007. They didn’t simply omit the fact that Fulghum fell asleep – they told a different story, the false one about an intentional delay.
Ramsdell lied in response to a direct question at a news conference July 13, 2007. Ramsdell and Fulghum lied again to reporters in November 2007. A Police Department after-action review omitted the fact that Fulghum fell asleep.
It’s clear now – after our interview with the chief a week ago – that Ramsdell knew the truth within days of the abduction. It’s also clear now that City Manager Eric Anderson knew by the summer of 2009. And if they didn’t know before, City Council members learned the truth April 20.
Yet no police or city official was reprimanded, and no one asked for further investigation.
Fulghum could be forgiven for falling asleep after working essentially a double shift on a difficult case, officials said, and apparently for misleading the public. The chief had apologized for misleading the public and was only trying to spare his spokesman the embarrassment.
On Tuesday, the city manager and City Council held a press conference to declare the matter over.
But TNT city hall reporter Lewis Kamb had one more question: Was Fulghum being paid to be on duty that night when he fell back to sleep?
On Tuesday, Kamb requested Fulghum’s time card for July 4 and July 5, 2007.
On Friday, the city manager came to talk to the TNT editorial board. He was carrying the documents Kamb requested. They showed Fulghum was on paid on-call status that night, requiring him to be “ready to act.”
Anderson told us the documents Kamb requested were his first indication that Fulghum, who said he took an over-the-counter sleep aid that night, might have violated department policy by being impaired while on duty.
The police chief hadn’t volunteered that information, and Anderson hadn’t asked. Ramsdell sat by at Lynn’s interview of the two of them and allowed Anderson to say Fulghum was at home off-duty that night.
Only after seeing the documents did Anderson reprimand Ramsdell. Only then did he order an internal affairs investigation into whether Fulghum violated department policy. Only then did he launch an independent review of the Police Department’s handling of the Linnik case.
None of it would have happened if reporter Lynn hadn’t discovered Fulghum’s admission. None of it would have happened if Kamb hadn’t asked for his time card.
Maybe a community does need watchdogs.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8738