“I would like to arrest Lynn … So, do I get a green light?”
The words appear in an email that Pierce County prosecutors tried to block from public view for almost three years. It’s part of a larger cache of records revealing the origins of a botched sex-abuse case that recently spawned a dismissal due to a rare finding of prosecutorial vindictiveness.
The sheriff’s deputy who wrote the email, Detective Debbie Heishman, didn’t get her green light — just the opposite. Recently disclosed records show a deputy prosecutor warned Heishman not to arrest Longbranch resident Lynn Dalsing in December 2010.
Lacking permission, Heishman made the arrest anyway, based on her dubious identification of a child pornography photo later proved to have nothing to do with Dalsing, who spent seven months in jail.
Initial doubt faded. Records show prosecutors supported the identification for months and tried to keep Dalsing in jail on that basis, over her attorney’s protests. The records also show Heishman initially refused to let Dalsing’s attorney see the photo.
The recent vindictiveness finding and the dismissal of more recent charges against Dalsing triggered the release of the long-held court records. She sought them in the context of a 2012 lawsuit that charges the county with false arrest and malicious prosecution.
Prosecutors resisted disclosure of the records, fighting to the Washington State Supreme Court and back. The News Tribune recently obtained the records via public disclosure.
Heishman did not respond to requests for comment sent via email and through intermediaries at the sheriff’s department.
Fallout from the Dalsing case is spreading.
A whistleblower complaint filed May 12 against Prosecutor Mark Lindquist cites the case, among other things, as the basis for multiple allegations of governmental misconduct and retaliation.
The whistleblower allegations also contend that prosecutors selectively attacked the credibility of law enforcement officers who clashed with them, while shielding officers such as Heishman.
Asked for comment on the new records and the actions of prosecutors, Lindquist did not respond. His office referred questions to Stewart Estes, a private attorney representing the county in Dalsing’s lawsuit. Estes referred questions to the sheriff’s department.
The original charges against Dalsing were dismissed without prejudice in 2011, after the photo used to charge her with molesting her 7-year-old daughter was revealed to be part of a known series of child pornography images dating to 2000.
After that dismissal, prosecutors filed new charges of child rape against Dalsing in 2014, accusing her of knowing about her husband’s sex crimes against his daughter and two other children, and aiding him in their commission.
Those were the charges dismissed with prejudice March 31, due to prosecutorial vindictiveness.
At the time of Lynn Dalsing’s 2010 arrest, Heishman was a veteran sheriff’s detective with 24 years of service and multiple commendations.
In 2008, she received the department’s Medal of Merit, after her efforts to clear 18 homicide cases that had to be retried because of a court decision. Colleagues also speak of her fierce dedication to protecting children trapped in abusive situations.
While Heishman’s personnel file was officially clean, her overall record showed a penchant for cutting corners that sometimes got her in trouble. That led to complaints, accusations of dishonesty and a judge’s finding of official misconduct.
In 2004, her pursuit of murder suspect Raymond Wesley Garland led to a complaint from the suspect’s mother, who said Heishman got physical with her.
An internal investigation by the sheriff’s department led to a ruling of “not sustained,” meaning the claim couldn’t be proved or disproved. Meanwhile, the county’s risk management division paid the suspect’s mother $6,000.
The Garland case, a tavern fight that ended in a fatal shooting, led to a protracted trial; in 2007, defense attorney Barbara Corey, the county’s former chief criminal prosecutor, repeatedly accused Heishman of misconduct during the investigation, according to court records.
“Detective Heishman has serious credibility problems,” Corey wrote in a motion for dismissal.
Prosecutors defended Heishman; ultimately Garland was convicted of second-degree murder, after three trials in six years.
In 2005, prosecutors were forced to reduce aggravated murder charges against two men because of Heishman’s uncertain memory.
The infamous case, remembered in courtroom shorthand as the Snap-On murder, charged two men accused of kidnapping and killing tool salesman Robert Shapel in 2004. The killers wrapped Shapel’s head in duct tape and a plastic bag. He suffocated.
The charges — potential death sentences — hinged on a confession Heishman obtained from one of the killers, after he had initially refused to talk.
In open court, a sheriff’s detective testified that a jail officer had told Heishman the man wanted to “give it up” — but Heishman couldn’t identify the jail officer when prosecutors asked, according to court records.
That meant no proof the confession was voluntary. Prosecutors agreed it couldn’t be used in a death penalty argument. Both men later were convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to 34 and 55 years in prison.
THE GREEN LIGHT
The Dalsing case was ugly from the start. The key defendant, Lynn Dalsing’s husband, Michael, was charged with multiple counts of child rape. The victims included his daughter and two of her young friends.
Michael Dalsing was helpful, charming and manipulative, according to case records. Informally, he served as photographer for his local church. According to statements in court records, he told his victims not to tell anyone about his actions. He said he’d get arrested.
Hints in records suggest he tried to conceal his actions from his wife, sometimes slipping medication into her drinks, or if she was tired, encouraging her to take a sleeping pill.
Together with another deputy, computer analyst Mike Ames, Heishman reviewed a cache of child porn photos recovered from the Dalsing home. One was the key picture — a shot of a nude adult woman whose face was not visible, and a child on top of her, also naked.
The photo had a file name, and a date of 2000. The file name included an extension that read,“11yo.” The Dalsings’ daughter was 7 years old in 2010.
The News Tribune is not publishing the file name; it’s associated with a series of child porn images known in legal and law enforcement circles. The photos were taken in a mobile home in Missouri, three years before the Dalsings’ child was born.
The series was known in King County; investigators and attorneys discussed it in federal court two years before Michael Dalsing’s arrest, in a child pornography case that originated in Des Moines.
An investigator from the King County prosecutor’s office testified he was familiar with the series. Another witness, an FBI agent from Missouri, testified she knew the identity of the child in the series and interviewed her.
Heishman, unaware of those circumstances in 2010, filed a police report that identified Lynn Dalsing as the woman in the photo.
Originally, she attributed the identification to Ames — but Ames, testifying in a 2013 deposition, said he had never told Heishman the woman was Dalsing. In a subsequent interview with The News Tribune, Ames said Heishman insisted the woman in the photo was Dalsing — Ames said he told her it wasn’t.
The recently disclosed records of the investigation shed new light on the moments that followed.
Heishman, mindful of a dependency hearing involving Lynn Dalsing and her daughter, wanted to make sure the mother didn’t regain custody of the child, who had been taken into protective custody by state officials after the initial arrest of Michael Dalsing.
Heishman sent an email to prosecutors after the meeting with Ames, expressing her desire for action, and identifying Lynn Dalsing as the woman in the photo. She peppered her note with exclamation points.
“…in one [photograph] she has a nude young girl on top of her and she is holding on to the little girl while someone photographs them !!!!
“I would like to arrest Lynn… Lynn is scheduled for a Dependency Hearing next week and I want to make sure she does not get little (victim) back!!!
“So do I get a green light?”
– Heishman email to prosecutors, Nov. 9, 2010
Heishman waited a month before an answer came. Meanwhile, she sent a note to another sheriff’s deputy on Nov. 30, misstating the evidence and reiterating her disgust:
“Did I tell you that Mom is in naked photos w/(victim)???? YUK”
The answer finally came Dec. 8. Deputy Prosecutor Lori Kooiman told Heishman to hold off on the arrest, adding that the police report and Heishman’s identification of Lynn Dalsing weren’t good enough.
The note was copied to Tim Lewis, another prosecutor.
“I understand you want to arrest mom… As much as I hate to do it, we will need to set up a time to review the photos in order to proceed with anything against mom. In the (report), Heishman provides a very general description of the photos, but it’s not enough to charge.”
– Kooiman email to Heishman/Lewis, Dec. 8, 2010
Kooiman didn’t know it, but her message came too late. Without permission, Heishman had arrested Lynn Dalsing earlier in the day and booked her into the Pierce County Jail.
She’d confronted Dalsing and described the photo to her without showing it. Dalsing said she didn’t recall such a photo. Heishman replied that she didn’t believe her, according to a police report she filed afterward.
After the arrest, Heishman and her supervisor, detective Sgt. Teresa Berg, spoke to Grant Blinn, another prosecutor. They showed Blinn the key image.
The newly disclosed records include an email Heishman sent to Kooiman, explaining what had happened.
“Teresa and I went up and showed Grant the photos of mom. He agreed and also stated that she should be charged with Child Molest also…
Of course I got your email after I had arrested Mom!!
– email from Heishman to Kooiman, Dec. 8, 2010
The next day, Kooiman signed an affidavit charging Dalsing with first-degree child molestation and sexual exploitation of a minor.
The newly released records include a timeline written by Kooiman, noting Heishman’s actions, and describing the hurried decisions that led to the charges.
“Some of the information contained in the (charges) was received via telephone conversation w/ Det. Sgt. Berg b/c reports were not complete,” the timeline states.
The charges against Dalsing added one new detail, never mentioned in police reports.
“Det. Heishman has identified the bedroom in which the photos were taken to be the same master bedroom of the residence that was searched,” the charges state.
Based solely on Heishman’s word, prosecutors identified Dalsing as the woman in the picture (though her face couldn’t be seen), and the bedroom as Dalsing’s bedroom. They didn’t check with anyone else, including Ames, who had processed the cache of crime scene photos and could not tie the key image to Dalsing’s bedroom.
Later information established that Heishman’s identification was wrong — but the entire process was shaky, according to an expert analysis in the newly released records.
The analysis came from Sue Peters, a retired King County detective who spent 20 years in the major crimes unit and served on the Green River Task Force — the unit that arrested serial killer Gary Ridgway.
Peters conducted the analysis in 2013 at the request of Dalsing’s attorney in the false-arrest lawsuit.
Writing more than two years after the arrest, Peters pointed out that Heishman had the photo for a month and made no attempt to independently verify the identification. When she arrested Dalsing, Heishman didn’t show her the photo, though she accused her of being in it.
“The suspect identification phase of this investigation was severely flawed. Det. Heishman appears to be arbitrary and non-objective in her pursuit to arrest Lynn Dalsing. Det. Heishman made no attempt to verify the female adult in the photograph was Lynn Dalsing. Had this happened in a timely manner, Lynn Dalsing would not have been arrested and booked into jail.”
– Peters analysis,
March 12, 2013
Assessing the criminal charges and the statement that referred to Heishman’s identification of the bedroom, Peters questioned the decisions of prosecutors.
“This is clearly a misrepresentation of facts. A reasonable person … would clearly be able to conclude that the photograph is not Lynn Dalsing’s master bedroom. To list a few obvious differences, Lynn’s bedroom has a distinct wall covering of ‘clouds’ in the middle of the wall; Lynn’s bed does not have a headboard with a mirror; Lynn’s bed does not have a comforter that is pink, white and blue with a specific pattern.”
– Peters analysis
The original records of the criminal case show no sign of such doubts. The case against Dalsing moved forward.
Prosecutors were trying to pick up loose ends. On or around March 28, 2011, deputy prosecutor Tim Lewis asked Heishman to check the identity of the child in the photo, according to the newly released records.
The face of the child was clearly visible. Heishman cropped a grainy version of the image, zoomed in on the child’s face and showed it to one of Dalsing’s relatives. The relative said the child in the photo looked like Dalsing’s daughter.
Heishman filed a report saying so.
“She (the relative) also said it was not a very good quality photograph, and if we wanted to make it clearer she could look at it again. But despite the quality she believes it is a photograph of (the victim).”
– Heishman report,
March 29 2011
Heishman had interviewed Dalsing’s daughter multiple times the previous fall, before the arrest. She’d seen the child’s face up close and talked to her about kittens, according to her police reports.
In those reports, she had never identified the child in the key photo, and she told Ames she couldn’t.
She had identified a woman whose face couldn’t be seen, and not identified a child whose face was visible.
Peters, the retired King County detective, again cast doubt on Heishman’s methods and the decisions that followed.
“Clearly, if a person requests to view a better quality picture, this is not a positive identification. … It would have been a reasonable investigative step to obtain a better quality photograph to show the witness again (which was not done by Det. Heishman).”
– Peters analysis
Nevertheless, Heishman had a witness tentatively identifying the child as Dalsing’s daughter. The criminal case was looking stronger. Prosecutors ran with it, later citing the witness statement as justification for keeping Dalsing in jail — but the defendant and her attorney still hadn’t seen the key image.
“THAT AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN.”
Gary Clower, Dalsing’s defense attorney, had learned of the new allegation that the child in the photo was Dalsing’s daughter. He wanted to see the image.
He asked prosecutors for access — again. He’d been asking for months, and already signed a protective order granting him theoretical access to the thousands of photos recovered during the investigation.
Prosecutors and Clower disagree about this chain of events.
Prosecutors say Clower had been granted access early on and dragged his feet. Clower, interviewed multiple times, has said he was trying to narrow his request to one relevant point. He didn’t want to comb through thousands of child porn images — just the photo that allegedly depicted his client.
In mid-April, Lewis emailed Heishman and told her to give Clower a copy.
Dalsing had been in jail for five months. The key evidence against her, the basis for her confinement, was the photo. She’d never seen it, and Clower hadn’t either.
Heishman refused to provide it, according to the new records.
“I received a return voicemail from Detective Heishman indicating, regarding my request to turn a copy of the photograph over to Mr. Clower, ‘that ain’t gonna happen,’ as the image in question constituted child pornography.”
– Lewis memo,
July 14, 2011
Prosecutors huddled and underlined a message to Heishman and her supervisor, Teresa Berg: The request wasn’t optional. Get a copy of the photo to the defense.
More than a month passed before Clower, jumping through discovery hoops, signed a new protective order, obtained a copy of the photo and showed it to his client, who promptly said she wasn’t the woman in the picture.
Clower also spoke to Dalsing’s estranged husband, who said the image came from a known, named child porn series, and that the woman in the photo wasn’t his wife.
Clower relayed that information to prosecutors, who turned to Heishman and asked her to speak to Ames, the computer analyst. Heishman asked Ames via email if he could connect Lynn Dalsing to the family computers, as the basis for possible new charges of child porn possession.
Ames, who had not known the photo was used as the basis for charging Dalsing, replied in an email that sparked a legal firestorm. Saying he couldn’t connect Dalsing to the computers, he added the words, “We can’t see her,” noting she couldn’t be identified in the photo, either.
For the first time, the photo identification had been questioned by one of the investigators in the case, and prosecutors officially knew it.
Kooiman replied to Ames, saying she’d have to disclose his email to the defense. She didn’t; prosecutors contend she shared the information verbally, but Clower didn’t see the email for almost two years, according to his sworn statement in court records.
Dalsing spent another six weeks in jail before prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charges, after getting a formal confirmation from federal authorities that the photo came from the known series.
Learning of the dismissal from a colleague, Heishman sent a frustrated email, with distinctive punctuation:
“That is news to me. I will need to vent on this for a while??***!!!#*****”
– Heishman email,
July 13, 2011
Dalsing’s subsequent lawsuit snarled prosecutors and Ames in a legal knife fight. After a testy deposition in early 2013, Ames filed briefs in the suit, seeking the right to disclose his “we can’t see her” email. Prosecutors objected and lost.
After a series of dueling declarations about those disclosures, Ames found himself listed as a “Brady” cop by prosecutors — a shorthand legal designation referring to evidence that might impinge on an officer’s credibility in court testimony.
That prompted Ames to file a separate lawsuit seeking a hearing to clear his name. A judge ruled against him. Prosecutors tried to tag him with $118,000 in attorney fees; the same judge ruled against them. The case is ongoing, mired in appeals.
While Ames made the prosecutors’ Brady list, Heishman did not. After the first dismissal of charges against Lynn Dalsing, Heishman ran afoul of a judge in an unrelated child pornography case. The defendant was Weldon Marc Gilbert, convicted after a protracted trial.
Gilbert represented himself in court, and conducted legal research and interviews over the phone from his jail cell. According to court records, Heishman listened in on his phone calls, despite a court order prohibiting it.
Her actions led to a formal finding from Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper that barred Heishman from testifying.
“An agent of the state, Detective Deborah Heishman, did improperly monitor communications between the defendant and his attorney, an employee of his attorney, and his investigators,” Culpepper’s finding states. “This constitutes governmental misconduct.”
Heishman retired in February 2012. She is listed among the witnesses in Dalsing’s long-running criminal case, as well as the false arrest lawsuit. To date, prosecutors have not designated her as a Brady officer. They say they draw a distinction between mistakes and dishonesty.
The recent whistleblower complaint against Lindquist alleges that prosecutors use selective and “vengeful application” of Brady materials. The complaint names Ames and Heishman, noting that one officer was tagged with the Brady label and the other was not.
The prosecutor’s formal policy on Brady material, adopted in 2013, includes the following statement about what constitutes relevant material defense attorneys should be allowed to see:
“Information which may be disclosed includes ... any information that a reasonable person, considering all relevant circumstances then known, could view as impairing the credibility of a witness whom the PCPAO will call to testify in a particular criminal proceeding.”