A Lakewood police officer has resigned after an outside investigation found he lied about how he crashed his patrol car March 8.
The 34-year-old officer had claimed the wreck happened as he was chasing a speeding car and someone inside pointed a shotgun at him, prompting him to drive off Perimeter Road.
Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar asked the Washington State Patrol to look into the accident. Investigators found there was no other car and no suspect with a gun.
“They determined there was no way it could have happened how he said it happened,” Farrar said.
The officer, who had been out on a work-related injury since the incident, resigned July 8 after being told the police department was launching an internal investigation into his statements, Farrar said. His resignation took effect immediately.
The News Tribune is not naming the officer because he has not been charged in connection with the incident.
He had been with the Police Department since its inception more than six years ago and previously worked for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
Farrar and Assistant Police Chief Mike Zaro said they didn’t know why the officer’s patrol car went off the road or why he didn’t tell the truth about what happened.
And they may never know.
Because the officer no longer is with the department, he is under no obligation to make a statement about what happened. He does not face a criminal investigation, Zaro said.
The incident began about 11:45 p.m. when the officer told dispatchers he was chasing a speeding driver on Perimeter Road, which runs between Lakewood and Parkland.
When dispatchers were unable to contact the officer, other officers were dispatched and found the first officer’s patrol car off the road. The officer was semi-conscious and had been partially thrown into the passenger side of his car.
The officer told detectives the speeding car had slowed as if the occupants were going to get out. The officer said he unbuckled his seat belt and slowed his patrol car.
The other car then went into the oncoming lane, turned and was partially blocking the roadway, the officer said, adding that a passenger pointed a shotgun at the patrol car.
The officer said he tried to get out of the way but lost control of his car and crashed.
He spent several hours in a hospital, being evaluated and treated for his injuries. The patrol car had minimal damage.
The officer gave a description of the car and multiple law enforcement agencies searched for it but didn’t find it or the suspects. The information also was distributed to the media.
Farrar and Zaro said the officer’s account didn’t entirely add up the night of the incident.
Troopers had helped search for the speeding car and launched an investigation into the crash. Farrar said he asked the State Patrol to continue investigating.
A State Patrol team analyzed the physical evidence and reviewed surveillance video from a nearby house.
The video showed the officer’s car, with its emergency lights flashing, going off the side of the road and stopping. No speeding car was visible.
Another car appears on the video about 20 seconds ahead of the officer. That car appears to be going the speed limit.
“There was no one sideways on the road,” Farrar said. “He did not go off the road in such a manner that would lead him to be tossed around inside the car.”
Investigators couldn’t tell whether the officer called dispatchers before or after he went off the road, Zaro said. There were no indications the officer had been drinking or otherwise intoxicated.
The officer made a statement to investigators the night of the incident. Since then, he has said he can’t remember what happened, Zaro said.
Farrar said he will inform the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission of the officer’s resignation. He also will forward the State Patrol’s report to the state Department of Labor & Industries because the officer had claimed an on-the-job injury.
The chief called the officer a hard worker who had an incredible memory for faces and license plates. He knew local gangs well and had worked on the SWAT team.
He was on the same squad as four officers killed Nov. 29, 2009, at a Parkland coffee shop. The officer was working that morning but had not gone to the coffee shop.
City Manager Andrew Neiditz said integrity is a core value for the city’s police officers. He added the investigation has been tough for the department.
“The chief handled this difficult situation very appropriately,” Neiditz said. “We can put this to rest now.”