Pierce County detective’s relationship with widow questioned

Staff writerOctober 3, 2013 

A Pierce County sheriff’s detective’s pursuit of a personal relationship with the widow of a victim in an unsolved homicide case has become an issue in two unrelated criminal cases, including the rape and killing of a developmentally disabled South Hill girl three years ago.

In the most recent case, defense attorneys have requested all information regarding investigations of alleged misconduct committed by detective Sgt. Denny Wood, saying they need the information to potentially challenge Wood’s veracity if he’s called to testify in State v. Tyler Wolfgang Savage.

“It has to do with his credibility,” said defense attorney Les Tolzin, who is helping to represent Savage. “I think I have a right to know.”

Savage, 21, is charged with aggravated first-degree murder in the death of Kimberly “Kimmie” Daily, a 16-year-old Special Olympian who went missing in August 2010 only to be discovered raped and strangled a week later.

Savage, who’s pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to go to trial next month.

Wood helped investigate Daily’s death and is the first law enforcement officer named on the prosecution’s witness list in the case, court records show.

Details of the relationship between the detective and the widow have not been made public. Tolzin said he learned of the allegations against Wood from prosecutors, who are required by law to divulge such information about officers involved in a case headed to trial.

“Detective Wood did a good job investigating this case and our evidence is solid,” Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said. “As to these collateral issues, our office did what the law requires, of course, and disclosed potential impeachment material to the defense.”

Deputy prosecutor Stephen Penner said prosecutors became aware of the Internal Affairs investigation this year, requested further information from the Sheriff’s Department and gave information to Tolzin as it became available.

Tolzin said prosecutors gave him a summary of the allegations which did not go into enough detail to be useful. That’s why he’s requested the complete Internal Affairs file, he said.

Wood declined to comment for this story.

Sheriff Paul Pastor, through deputy prosecutor Mike Sommerfeld, has asked a judge to review the documents in question, decide whether anything should be turned over to the defense and issue an order sealing that material from public view.

The records being sought by Tolzin are part of an ongoing internal investigation into Wood and contain sensitive information, Sommerfeld wrote in court pleadings filed this week.

“The records include police personnel file materials and potentially unsustained allegations,” Sommerfeld wrote. “The requested records also implicate considerable privacy rights of third parties. The records also to some degree concern an open and unsolved homicide case.”

Superior Court Judge Linda Lee is to hear arguments on the matter Friday.

It is the second recent criminal case in which Wood’s behavior has been brought up by defense attorneys. Defense attorney Michael Schwartz, for similar reasons earlier this year, requested Wood’s personnel file and personal cellphone records as Schwartz was preparing to defend a man charged with assault.

Wood also investigated that case.

“The information sought by the defense is directly impeaching of Det. Sgt. Wood on at least two levels,” Schwartz wrote. “The information sought likely establishes that the detective was carrying out a clandestine affair while on duty, in contravention of his oath of office as a police officer, and also demonstrates he was untruthful when he filled out his pay hours for those reporting periods.”

Schwartz also argued the behavior called into question Wood’s credibility.

Wood, a 21-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, filed a sworn affidavit in that case.

“I have been involved in an internal investigation in a completely unrelated matter,” Wood wrote in the affidavit, which he signed June 25. “That matter involved a personal relationship with the widow of a homicide victim.”

He went on to say he understood why that might be fair game in court but argued vigorously against the release of her personal phone records.

“I should not be required to divulge these materials based on the substantial risk of harm, intimidation and unnecessary annoyance to me and my family and friends,” Wood wrote of his personal phone records.

Superior Court Judge Vicki Hogan agreed, ruling the phone records should remain private.

Hogan ruled that some of the internal investigation records should be made available to Schwartz but signed an order sealing them from public view, court records show.

Schwartz’s client ultimately was convicted.

Wood has been on paid leave since January, sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.

An internal investigation into Wood’s relationship with the woman has been completed and “is making its way up the chain of command,” Troyer said.

“The sheriff hasn’t seen it yet, so he can’t comment on it,” he said.

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

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