The message from Lakewood’s police chief to the small city of Ruston is direct and drastic: We won’t provide law enforcement aid if you need it, and your police officers have no authority within our borders.
The surprising declaration appears in a May 10 letter from Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro to Ruston Mayor Bruce Hopkins and City Council members. It stems from a long-simmering feud between Lakewood police leaders and Ruston Police Chief Anders Estes, a former Lakewood officer who left the department in 2016.
Zaro contends Estes used the recent suicide of Lakewood police Officer Arron Grant to further a critical campaign against Lakewood department leaders by posting on Facebook about Grant’s suicide before it was formally announced.
“As your chief’s lack of integrity and professionalism is a reflection of the entire Ruston Police Department, I am revoking their police authority in the City of Lakewood as outlined in the Police Powers Act and any requests for mutual aid or assistance will be denied until such time as I have faith in the credibility of your department,” Zaro’s letter states.
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As your chief’s lack of integrity and professionalism is a reflection of the entire Ruston Police Department, I am revoking their police authority in the City of Lakewood as outlined in the Police Powers Act and any requests for mutual aid or assistance will be denied until such time as I have faith in the credibility of your department.
Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro
Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson and City Manager John Caulfield said they were aware of Zaro’s letter before he sent it and knew of the circumstances that led to the decision.
“Police work, especially interjurisdictional police work, is based on a high degree of trust,” Anderson said. “It appears that in the opinion of Chief Zaro, that trust has been breached to the point that interagency cooperation is not workable.”
Zaro declined to be interviewed by The News Tribune regarding his letter and issued a statement via email last week.
“We have not received any communication from the Town of Ruston regarding my letter,” he wrote. “If they choose to air the issue publicly, they will do so without my participation. However, as stated in my letter, I am available for any questions or discussions they wish to have.”
Hopkins said last week that he had received the letter, adding that he was consulting with staff and seeking legal advice before responding formally. He added that Estes has apologized and offered to resign. Hopkins said he declined to accept the resignation.
Ruston Mayor Bruce Hopkins said last week that he had received the letter, adding that he was consulting with staff and seeking legal advice before responding formally. He added that Estes has apologized and offered to resign. Hopkins said he declined to accept the resignation.
“He doesn’t want to cause the city of Ruston any problems,” Hopkins said. “I don’t like the way this has been presented to me. Public safety should be first and foremost. We’re just trying to understand what has spurred all this on. We’re trying to understand what set (Zaro) off to this degree. It seems a bit over the top.”
Grant died by suicide on April 25 at his home in Fircrest. Word of the incident spread swiftly through private channels, but the information was not made public immediately. That evening, Estes posted a statement on the Ruston Police Department’s Facebook page, referring to the incident and the officer’s death, without naming Grant.
Zaro’s letter to Ruston officials contends that Estes violated protocol by posting the statement before formal notification to Grant’s family and an official announcement from Lakewood. He adds that Estes later posted a lengthy statement on a separate Facebook page about leadership, “with the clear insinuation that the leadership at our department failed Arron, and contributed to, if not directly caused his death.”
A May 3 story in The News Tribune about Grant’s suicide noted that he had been troubled by his testimony in a lawsuit related to his former job as a Seattle police officer.
The suit involved a teenage girl who had been paralyzed after an incident in Seward Park and a subsequent manhunt. The girl was a passenger in a car driven and wrecked by a suspect fleeing police.
Grant felt he had testified untruthfully, according to multiple people who spoke to him. Department leaders tried to reassure him, but the issue continued to haunt him.
Estes was quoted in the story, and he discussed his conversations with Grant about the matter. The story also generated numerous Facebook comments from Estes and other former Lakewood officers.
After Estes left Lakewood in 2016, he filed a citizen’s complaint against the department, accusing leaders of mismanagement and disparate use of internal discipline against himself and others.
Estes has also clashed with Assistant Chief John Unfred, who wrote a separate note to Ruston officials May 15, complaining of harassment from Estes. Following the publication of the News Tribune story about Grant’s suicide, Estes sent Unfred a photo of a train wreck.
Last week, Estes responded to the allegations in Zaro’s letter, stating he was speaking for himself and not in his capacity as Ruston chief.
I think it’s extremely discouraging that Mike Zaro would be willing to take the safety of the citizens of Ruston and put that aside for his own personal feelings. He’s going to hold that against the city of Ruston and the citizens of Ruston and everybody else that’ll be affected.
Ruston Police Chief Anders Estes
“I think it’s extremely discouraging that Mike Zaro would be willing to take the safety of the citizens of Ruston and put that aside for his own personal feelings,” he said. “He’s going to hold that against the city of Ruston and the citizens of Ruston and everybody else that’ll be affected.”
A separate question — can Lakewood even do that? — is harder to answer.
Practically speaking, Lakewood’s denial of police aid to Ruston’s six-member police department is unlikely to have an effect. Ruston, with a population of 935, according to the latest state estimates, is roughly 10 miles from Lakewood and geographically surrounded by the city of Tacoma, which would be the first option for law enforcement aid in a crisis.
“What would really happen is Tacoma would cover Ruston, and Lakewood could cover Tacoma,” said Anderson, the Lakewood mayor.
Police officers are commissioned by the state, not cities. The state law governing police powers allows commissioned officers broad power to enforce traffic and criminal laws throughout the state. That’s why the urban legend of fleeing two feet beyond the city limits to escape a local cop’s jurisdiction is just that.
Interlocal agreements among cities for mutual police aid are common. Ruston is one of 14 smaller cities throughout Pierce County that have a mutual aid agreement for certain services. In theory, police chiefs of individual cities have authority to recognize (or not recognize) other police agencies whose operations enter their cities, as long as a prior interlocal agreement is in force.
Asked whether Lakewood would deny mutual aid if a “significant emergency” develops in Ruston, Zaro said he would listen to such a request.
“If the town of Ruston has that question to ask of me, then I would be available and willing to talk to them,” he said.