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Charges dropped against fired Tacoma cops who told grandmother to beat boy with belt

Ex-Tacoma cops plead not guilty to child assault, misconduct

Fired Tacoma police officers Jesse Jahner and Damion Birge pleaded not guilty at arraignment Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, to charges of third-degree child assault, coercion and official misconduct in Pierce County Superior Court.
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Fired Tacoma police officers Jesse Jahner and Damion Birge pleaded not guilty at arraignment Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, to charges of third-degree child assault, coercion and official misconduct in Pierce County Superior Court.

Charges against two fired Tacoma police officers who told a woman to beat her 9-year-old grandson with a belt were dismissed Thursday.

Jesse Jahner and Damion Birge had been charged with a felony of third-degree child assault as well as gross misdemeanors of coercion and official misconduct in Pierce County Superior Court.

Judge Jerry Costello dismissed the charges without prejudice.

“They didn’t commit a crime, he and his partner,” said David Allen, Jahner’s attorney. “Maybe some people would disagree with how they handled it.”

On June 5, 2017, the two officers responded to a 911 call involving the boy, who reportedly has developmental disabilities and the intellectual capacity of a 4-year-old. Birge and Jahner were familiar with the boy.

Prior to their arrival, the boy had broken windows and plates and briefly armed himself with a knife. He was sitting on a couch with his grandmother when they arrived.

Birge and Jahner told the grandmother to get a belt with Birge telling her to “beat the demons” out of the boy, according to court records. If she didn’t, the officers said, they would no longer respond to her home.

Jahner, a nine-year department veteran, held the boy down on a couch to make it easier for the woman to strike him, records show.

“They were properly telling the grandmother, under state law, that she could use physical discipline to correct her out-of-control grandson,” Allen told The News Tribune on Thursday.

Two social workers from Catholic Community Services witnessed the incident. They said the boy was struck 20 to 25 times.

The boy was transported to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital for mental health reasons after the incident. A social worker at the hospital noted bruises on his body and called police, records show.

The Washington State Patrol investigated Jahner and Birge to avoid potential conflicts of interest. For similar reasons, Pierce County prosecutors forwarded the case to the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office for a charging decision.

The state has 30 days to appeal the ruling.

Jahner and Birge were fired by the Tacoma Police Department in October following an internal investigation. They had been on administrative leave.

Jahner is appealing his termination.

“He’s hoping to get back on the force because he’s a good officer,” Allen said Thursday.

Birge’s attorney, J.C. Becker, was pleased with the ruling but said there are no winners in this situation.

“Everybody suffered here, and he’s been out of a job for almost two years,” Becker said Thursday. “He was trying to help this lady with her situation.”

Becker said Birge would stick around and advise parents who were having problems with their children, rather than just quickly clearing it.

“His personnel file shows that,” Becker said. “Lots of commendations and no disciplines.”

Birge and Jahner were put in a difficult situation, Allen said.

“They were told by the Prosecutor’s Office not to make arrests of kids under 12 because they would just be released back to their parents,” Allen said. “They thrust these police officers into very difficult situation and they don’t back them up.”

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Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.

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