Two Pierce County sheriff’s deputies who have clashed with Prosecutor Mark Lindquist filed separate lawsuits Monday, alleging misconduct, retaliation and violations of their civil rights by Lindquist and his staffers.
The suits by deputy Glenda Nissen and retired deputy Mike Ames escalate an intertwined pair of legal feuds linked to continuing controversies engulfing Lindquist’s office.
On the surface, one battle is linked to text messages on Lindquist’s personal phone. The other involves a long-running sex-abuse case dismissed twice, the second time in March 2015, due to prosecutorial vindictiveness.
A common thread weaving through both suits is reputation: The deputies accuse Lindquist of deliberately seeking to ruin them.
“Lindquist has destroyed detective Mike Ames’ reputable career,” wrote attorney Joan Mell, who represents both deputies. “Lindquist trampled on Det. Nissen’s rights and impaired her hard-earned reputation for effective law enforcement.”
Seattle attorney Mike Patterson, defending the cases for the county, denied the allegations. He called both suits baseless, and said both deputies have filed prior complaints in various venues that have been rejected or dismissed.
“The County will vigorously defend these claims through discovery and trial,” Patterson said.
Ames, who retired from the sheriff’s office in 2014 after 26 years on the job, contends Lindquist’s office wrongly labeled him as dishonest “Brady” cop — a piece of legal shorthand viewed by law enforcement officers as a permanent stain.
The core of his suit stems from his role in the sex-abuse case.
Lynn Dalsing, the defendant, sued the county for false arrest in 2012 after criminal charges against her were first dismissed in 2011.
In the course of that suit, Ames, formerly the chief computer forensics analyst for the sheriff’s office, sought to disclose emails he wrote during the criminal investigation. The emails described a photo of a woman misidentified as Dalsing, referred to by prosecutors as the basis for criminal charges.
The email Ames wrote stated, in part, “We can’t see her,” referring to Dalsing’s face. Court records show a deputy prosecutor said the email would have to be provided to Dalsing’s defense attorney. It wasn’t, and prosecutors fought disclosure of the record for two years.
Subsequently, prosecutors listed Ames as a “Brady” cop, citing declarations Ames filed in the false-arrest lawsuit regarding his emails and communications with prosecutors.
Ames said he delivered his emails to a deputy prosecutor defending the lawsuit. The prosecutor said that was false. Ames subsequently provided records showing the emails had in fact been delivered.
In 2013, Ames sought a hearing to clear his name. A judge ruled against him. The prosecutor’s office subsequently sought more than $100,000 in attorney fees from Ames, and sanctions against attorney Mell.
The same judge rejected the county’s request for fees and sanctions. Both sides appealed their losses. The county has paid $245,000 to date to outside attorneys working on the case. The state court of appeals heard arguments from both sides last fall, and a ruling is pending.
During those arguments, an attorney for the county argued that Ames’ attempts to seek a name-clearing hearing were “the wrong vehicle,” and he should sue for damages instead.
Citing that statement, Ames filed his claim for damages in October, followed by the formal filing of the lawsuit Monday.
“We are confident that this baseless lawsuit will be rejected just as (Ames’) previous complaints were,” said Patterson, the attorney defending the county.
The history of Nissen’s suit dates to 2011, when she sued for access to text messages on Lindquist’s personal phone. Nissen believed the messages would show Lindquist continued to retaliate against her for political criticism, despite a formal settlement and agreement not to do so.
The text-message case sailed to the Washington State Supreme Court and back. To date, the county has paid more than $325,000 to outside attorneys defending Lindquist’s argument that the messages were private and immune from disclosure. The case remains active, and a ruling is expected within days.
Recent developments in the text-message dispute have added heat. One of the messages Lindquist wrote on Aug. 2, 2011, was sent to his then-chief criminal deputy prosecutor, Mary Robnett. It directed her to “Tell allies to comment on TNT story.” The published news story described a settlement with Nissen and an agreement not to retaliate against her.
Another deputy prosecutor, Mike Sommerfeld, posted an anonymous online comment on the story disparaging Nissen and Mell, her attorney. That discovery, reported by The News Tribune last month, led to Sommerfeld being relieved of his duties as legal adviser to Sheriff Paul Pastor.
A separate element of Nissen’s suit refers to a 2010 allegation that she mailed an anonymous death threat to a deputy prosecutor. Nissen has always denied it, and while sheriff’s deputies initially investigated the possibility, they found no forensic evidence linking Nissen to the threat.
The statement from Patterson, the attorney defending the county against Nissen’s new lawsuit, refers to the death-threat allegation. It omits the fact that an outside prosecutor’s office declined to file charges against Nissen, citing lack of evidence.
“This is the latest in (Nissen’s) series of baseless complaints filed by her and her attorney for financial and political purposes,” Patterson said.
A whistleblower investigation of Lindquist’s office, completed in October, notes that Lindquist interfered in the death-threat investigation and discouraged detectives from pursuing any suspect but Nissen.
The investigation also found that in 2015, prosecutors ordered subordinates to shun Nissen and not use evidence she gathered for investigations involving sexual assaults against children.
In January, Nissen wrote a letter to Pastor, saying she had been forced to quit after 18 years on the job due to Lindquist’s actions.
“No one has taken any corrective action to prevent his abuses,” Nissen wrote.
Her employment status is unclear; Pastor has said he doesn’t want to accept Nissen’s resignation.