City attorney’s letter about Zina Amber Alert doesn’t mention sleeping cop

NEWLY RELEASED: Amber Alert actions valid, city lawyer wrote in 2009

May 3, 2011 

A letter sent by Tacoma’s city attorney two years ago to the lawyer for Zina Linnik’s family states the police department acted appropriately in deciding when to issue an Amber Alert after the girl disappeared in 2007.

“The police department’s decisions on the manner and timing of the Amber Alert were appropriately guided by the rapidly developing investigation,” City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli wrote to Tyler Firkins, the Linnik family’s lawyer.

Pauli’s letter was sent sometime after a closed-door meeting in the summer of 2009 during which City Manager Eric Anderson maintains he and City Council members first learned that Officer Mark Fulghum delayed issuing the Amber Alert by six hours because he fell back to sleep after a sergeant requested he send the alert.

Seven members of the 2009 council, including current members Mayor Marilyn Strickland, Jake Fey and Spiro Manthou, have since said they don’t recall being told that a sleeping officer delayed the Amber Alert.

The Aug. 31, 2009 letter – obtained Monday by The News Tribune through a public records request – was a formal response to the family’s pending legal claim and an offer to resolve it through mediation. The letter disputed the city was liable and declined the offer.

The letter also makes no reference to the details about Fulghum’s involvement in the delay. Rather, it states “(a)ll available personnel and resources were committed to this investigation, without hesitation or qualification.”

By the city manager’s account, he, Pauli and several council members were among those in the executive session to discuss the family’s potential legal claim that prompted the city attorney’s response letter. All were clearly informed about the details about Fulghum’s sleep-induced delay of the alert, Anderson has said.

But neither Anderson – nor anyone else – sought to follow up on the issue, he said. Anderson cited executive session confidentiality issues and no obvious signs of policy violations for not seeking to further investigate the matter.

Until April 21, no city official had publicly revealed that Fulghum had fallen asleep instead of taking steps to see that the Amber Alert was issued, as requested by Sgt. Tom Davidson at 4 a.m. on July 5, 2007.

Fulghum’s actions came to light in court documents recently filed in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family. After The News Tribune reported the details April 20, Police Chief Don Ramsdell apologized to the newspaper for not mentioning Fulghum’s involvement when previously explaining reasons for the delay to the media.

On Friday, Anderson told the newspaper he had issued a written reprimand of Ramsdell and would seek separate probes of Fulghum and the department’s investigation of the Linnik case.

Received by the city on July 2, 2009, the Linnik family’s “pre-claim” raises several arguments for why the city and other government agencies were negligent. Key to the claim were allegations the city did not appropriately supervise or track Terapon Adhahn, the sex offender convicted of killing Linnik, despite a long record of offenses and his failure to register. At the time, the claim sought $32 million in damages.

The claim specifically alleges Tacoma police took 13 hours to issue the alert – way past the 4-hour issuance that best practices guidelines and department policy suggest.

The claim specifically cites Fulghum by name, saying he never gave the order to issue the alert when it was first ready about two hours after Linnik’s abduction. Instead, the claim alleged police became “fixated” on the wrong suspect – a neighbor who was cleared several hours later

But the Linniks’ claim never mentions any detail about Fulghum falling asleep.

On Monday, Firkins, the family’s lawyer, said he and his clients learned of the detail only in November 2010, more than a year after drafting the claim.

The detail also isn’t mentioned in Pauli’s response letter, which refutes the Linniks’ claim and declines the offer to mediate it.

Among other things, the letter disputed the city was responsible for tracking Adhahn as a sex offender and said the city had no legal duty to issue the Amber Alert at all.

Pauli’s letter also states the city actually issued the alert appropriately.

“Tacoma has expended considerable resources to ensure that its participation in the Amber Alert program effectively furthers the safety of children in the community,” the letter stated. “The Police Department’s decisions on the manner and timing of the Amber Alert were appropriately guided by the rapidly developing investigation.”

The letter goes on to say a decision was made not to issue the alert until after the suspected neighbor could be apprehended and investigated.

“Thus, this individual was not eliminated as a suspect until sometime after 4 a.m. on the morning of July 5, 2007,” the letter states. The alert was sent out at about 10 a.m.

Pauli did not provide a reason for why the alert was delayed beyond that time.

The letter also disputed the family’s claim that Linnik’s death could have been prevented had the alert had been issued within four hours. It cites Adhahn’s confession to the FBI, during which he claimed to kill the girl “within minutes of the abduction.”

Near the end of the letter, Pauli noted Tacoma police were heartbroken by the case.

“(C )ertain parts of the claim intimate that the Tacoma Police Department was in some way indifferent or less than fully dedicated during this investigation,” she wrote. “Please know that nothing could be further from the truth.”

On Friday, Anderson said several times the details about Fulghum’s involvement in the delay were clearly divulged in the 2009 executive session.

When told several council members couldn’t remember it, Anderson said that didn’t surprise him. The discussion occurred two years ago and involved a variety of new and very graphic details, he said.

In recent days, seven members of the 2009 council say they do not recall being told the details about Fulghum.

Manthou said Monday he remembers being told that while the first suspect in the case was being investigated, “the officer responsible for issuing the Amber Alert had gone home to get some sleep, because he had worked a full 16-hour double shift.”

“They had a suspect in custody when he went home,” Manthou added. “And when he came back to work, they realized this suspect was not the guy, and so he issued the Amber Alert after that.”

But asked if he was specifically told Fulghum’s sleep delayed the alert, Manthou said:

“That he was called at 4 a.m. and fell back to sleep? That was never mentioned. I don’t recall that, no.”

Along with Manthou, current members Strickland and Fey, and former members Bill Baarsma, Mike Lonergan, Julie Anderson, and Connie Ladenburg, have each said they don’t recall receiving the information.

Another former member, Rick Talbert, said Monday he missed the executive session. He added he first learned the details about Fulghum when reading about them in the newspaper last week.

Councilwoman Lauren Walker is the only member of the 2009 council who has not responded to The News Tribune’s request for comment.

Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542
lewis.kamb@thenewstribune.com
blog.thenewstribune.com/politics

Staff writer Adam Lynn also contributed to this report.

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