Crime

Deputy files $3.6 million claim against Lindquist, Pierce County

A retired Pierce County sheriff’s deputy who contends Prosecutor Mark Lindquist falsely branded him as a liar has a filed a $3.6 million claim for damages with the county’s risk management division.

Mike Ames, a 26-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, filed the claim Oct. 8, citing violation of his civil rights. The document — a prelude to a potential lawsuit — briefly alludes to his reasons for filing.

“Lindquist,” the claim states “insists my only remedy to clear my name and stop him from disseminating false information about me is a tort claim,”

The statement refers to an ongoing legal dispute with Pierce County dating to 2013. Ames contended that county prosecutors wrongly tagged him as a dishonest “Brady” cop — a piece of legal shorthand viewed by law enforcement officers as a permanent stain.

Ames sued and sought a hearing to clear his name, but no money. To date, the county has paid outside attorneys $289,670 to work on the case, according to records from the county’s risk management division.

The attorneys argued Ames had no legal basis for filing the suit. They also sought $118,000 in attorney fees. A visiting Superior Court judge reached a split decision in 2014, finding Ames couldn’t have his name-clearing hearing and the county couldn’t have its attorney fees.

Both sides appealed. The argument played out again in September, before the Washington state Court of Appeals. A decision is pending.

During the September hearing, private attorney Phil Talmadge, representing the county, argued that Ames was using “the wrong vehicle” for his grievances and should sue in federal court instead.

The claim filed by Ames takes that advice literally.

“(Lindquist’s) stance forces me to seek damages against Pierce County by filing this claim,” the document states. “Lindquist has refused me any opportunity to clear my name.”

Lindquist was not available for comment Friday, according to his assistant, Heather Songer. She provided a statement approved by the civil division of the prosecutor’s office, which handles tort claims.

“Potential impeachment evidence decisions are made by a committee in the Prosecutor’s Office, in accordance with a state-wide model policy,” the statement reads. “The disclosure of this evidence is required to comply with constitutional obligations to assure fair trials.”

Asked for comment, Sheriff Paul Pastor said he bore no ill will toward his former employee, and that it was Ames’ prerogative to seek legal relief.

Brady material, named for a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision, is meant for defendants. Also known as potential impeachment evidence, it allows defense attorneys to probe the credibility of arresting officers.

The duty to disclose it is mandatory, according to prosecutors, and they have wide discretion when it comes to defining it.

Typically, Brady material includes findings of misconduct from internal law enforcement investigations. The case involving Ames is different; instead, the records used to pin him with the Brady label come from a disagreement with prosecutors.

It’s tied to a larger criminal case that ultimately led to a finding of prosecutorial vindictiveness and an active effort to recall Lindquist from office.

In 2011, Ames was the sheriff’s computer forensic analyst. He was assigned to review a computer cache of child pornography, including a photo used as the basis to charge a Pierce County woman, Lynn Dalsing, with child molestation.

Another detective, Debbie Heishman, had told prosecutors that Ames said the image depicted Dalsing. Ames, in a subsequent deposition, said he made no such statement to Heishman.

Heishman’s word prevailed. She asked prosecutors for “a green light” to arrest Dalsing, and said the photo depicted her bedroom.

Ames reviewed the photo and sent an email to prosecutors, saying Dalsing couldn’t be identified in the image. Nor could he link it to the bedroom.

A deputy prosecutor, Lori Kooiman, said Ames’ email would have to be disclosed to the defense, but it wasn’t.

Ultimately, the facts proved Ames was right and Heishman was wrong; the photo didn’t depict Dalsing or her bedroom. It belonged to a known series of child porn images taken 10 years earlier in another state.

Charges against Dalsing were dismissed. She subsequently sued the county for false arrest.

After that, Ames’ email to prosecutors became the subject of a discovery battle in court. In 2013, he filed a legal motion seeking the right to disclose it.

The county opposed that motion and lost. (Ames won a pair of related legal victories tied to those efforts; appeals court judges recently awarded him about $15,000 in attorney fees, over the county’s objections.)

Ames filed a sworn declaration, saying he had delivered the key email string to Jim Richmond, a deputy prosecutor defending the county against Dalsing’s lawsuit. Ames added that Richmond told him the emails were “exculpatory.”

Richmond filed a counter-declaration, saying Ames “falsely” stated he turned over the emails, and that Richmond never described them as exculpatory.

Prosecutors later used Richmond’s declaration to label Ames as a Brady cop.

In response, Ames sued for a name-clearing hearing and a chance to argue he told the truth. He also provided proof he’d sent Richmond the email string. The records appear in court files.

In 2014, almost a year after the dueling claims appeared, Richmond filed a new declaration in the Ames lawsuit, saying he had received the emails from Ames, just not on the exact date Ames mentioned in a previous declaration.

A recent whistleblower investigation into claims of misconduct by Lindquist and his staff members adds a new wrinkle and a previously undisclosed detail to the Ames matter.

The complaint accused Lindquist and his staff of selective and vengeful application of the Brady label, noting Ames, who told the truth in his email, had been tagged with the Brady label, while Heishman had not, despite her dubious identification of the Dalsing photo and other past missteps.

The investigative report mentions the circumstances surrounding the Ames dispute. The investigator, outside attorney Mark Busto, avoided any legal conclusions, due to ongoing litigation. But he found prosecutors met in June to discuss Heishman and tagged her with the Brady label.

“As it turned out, the bedroom in the photo was clearly not Dalsing’s, based on obvious characteristics of her bedroom, which made Heishman’s statement sufficiently suspect to warrant disclosure,” the report states. “The (prosecutor’s office) has now identified her as a ... (Brady) officer.”

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