Special Reports

More domestic violence files

Tacoma police Wednesday released investigative files for five officers disciplined for domestic violence or abuse during the past five years.

The officers were investigated for allegations ranging from domestic abuse, such as hitting a family member, to abuse of police power in a domestic situation, such as doing a background check on a husband.

One officer was fired; one resigned rather than be fired; one was suspended for 12 days; one was given a disciplinary letter; and one was given disciplinary letters on two occasions.

Last week, the department provided the files of three other officers investigated for domestic violence. Of those, one was suspended for 10 days, one was given a written reprimand, and one received counseling.

In all, there are nine cases involving eight officers, one of whom was investigated twice. A 10th case - of an officer who resigned rather than be fired over a 1998 incident - remains to be released. Two current cases are under investigation.

The release came after The News Tribune and other media outlets sought the information through public disclosure requests.

The files - limited to allegations the department could verify and in which an officer was disciplined - provide a partial look at how the police department has handled domestic violence complaints over the past five years.

Following case law, the department did not release files for cases where investigators couldn't determine whether inappropriate behavior occurred, police spokesman Jim Mattheis said.

The department had no "sustained" incidents in 1996 and in 1997. Files from before 1996 aren't available because, under state guidelines, the department destroys disciplinary files more than five years old.

Police department officials did not release the names of the eight employees or any identifying information. The News Tribune obtained their names through court documents and other sources.

Police officials notified the five officers that their cases were being released Wednesday. They also tried to alert the officers' victims. None of the officers could be reached for comment on their cases.

The police department and the community have given domestic violence a new level of scrutiny since Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife and himself April 26.

Acting Chief Don Ramsdell said again Wednesday that the department is consulting national experts and revising its policies regarding domestic violence incidents. Ramsdell said he wouldn't comment on how cases were handled in the past.

Details from the files released Wednesday:

•Harold Calabaza: The department's Internal Affairs unit investigated the patrol officer in 2002 after he was accused of raping a teenage girl living in his home.

Pierce County prosecutors charged Calabaza with second-degree rape and he entered a so-called Newton plea to second-degree attempted sexual misconduct with a minor, a misdemeanor.

By entering the plea, Calabaza did not admit guilt but acknowledged evidence existed that would make a conviction likely.

"We believe that they're false allegations," Calabaza's attorney, Don Winskill, said Wednesday. "There was a lot involved in the case, which led to a reduction (in charges). There's a lot more to the story."

Brame fired Calabaza in August 2002 because of immoral and unbecoming conduct, failure to obey the laws and a violation of department rules.

•Robert Skola: Internal Affairs investigated the patrol officer in 2002, after he was prosecuted in Fife Municipal Court for domestic violence, interfering with the reporting of domestic violence and obstructing an officer.

Police reports, Skola and his wife say he shoved her to get at a bottle of alcohol she was keeping from him. She left and police, arriving later, said Skola was drunk, and, over the phone, talked about shooting anyone who came inside the couple's apartment. He later came out on his own.

Fife deferred prosecution if Skola received treatment for alcohol and domestic violence, which he has done.

Brame died two days before he was to decide Skola's case. It went to the city's Human Resources director, Phil Knudsen, for resolution.

Skola resigned rather than await Knudsen's decision, which would have been to fire the officer.

•Steve O'Keefe. The patrol officer was investigated after he punished his stepdaughter last year when she took a test for another student and forged two notes.

O'Keefe slapped the 10-year-old girl twice, spanked her with his hand and a belt and briefly handcuffed her hands behind her back with his department-issued handcuffs to show her "what it felt like to be a criminal," according to an Internal Affairs file.

The girl went to school the next day with the left side of her face red, swollen and bruised. She had a note from O'Keefe explaining the punishment to school officials, the file states.

Child Protective Services investigated and found O'Keefe's actions amounted to abuse. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department investigated and prosecutors charged O'Keefe with fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor, in August 2002.

He agreed to a deal that would wipe his record clean if he followed the court's conditions and had no other problems for two years.

In February, Brame gave O'Keefe a 12-day suspension without pay.

In a letter to Brame, O'Keefe's wife said the couple had had problems with the child in the past and had a system of progressive discipline in the home.

"He knew what could happen (even the danger this could put his career in) and he still did the right thing," she wrote. "Even though we both agree that the discipline was excessive, I am still proud that he set out to make things right by taking responsibility for his actions from the beginning."

•Ron Lewis: Internal Affairs investigated the detective in 2000 for running background checks on vehicles registered to his estranged wife.

He also called the woman's new employer and passed on information about her he might have gotten using his police powers, investigators said.

Lewis told investigators he'd checked his wife's vehicle registration because he wanted to confirm a car they'd owned together had been destroyed. He admitted calling his wife's employers, but said he told them only information he knew from talking to his wife, not from doing research using police equipment.

Investigators found he'd abused his position, inappropriately used the records system and gave out information he shouldn't have. He was given a written reprimand.

Lewis' file, as well as court records in another case, contain several references to a domestic violence investigation involving Lewis and his estranged wife.

Those allegations were investigated and not found "sustained," meaning they could have been untrue or couldn't be proved true or false.

•Valencia Brooks: Internal Affairs investigated the patrol officer in 2001 and 2002 for inappropriate behavior regarding her ex-boyfriend.

In the first case, investigators said Brooks sent the man, an officer with another law enforcement agency, this message over a police communications system: "You will always be a criminal with a badge!"

She also sent the man an e-mail message he perceived as a threat, and he obtained a protection order against her.

Brooks's bureau chief issued her a written reprimand.

In the second investigation, investigators said Brooks tried to get prosecutors and her ex-boyfriend's employer to investigate him for misconduct. Investigators noted she "did not heed the warning" of her first reprimand, and continued a "personal vendetta" against him and his employer.

Brame gave her a written reprimand more serious than one issued by a bureau chief.

In both the investigations, Brooks said she believed her ex-boyfriend was guilty of misconduct at work, and deliberately gave her a disease. Last month, she sued him in Pierce County Superior Court.

Last Friday, the department released these cases:

•Michael Justice: In 1998, the patrol officer was investigated after he allegedly twice punched his girlfriend, choked her and shouted obscenities at her, according to investigative records.

Prosecutors charged him with fourth-degree domestic violence assault. He agreed to comply with court-ordered conditions in exchange for having the charge dropped from his record after two years of no other criminal violations.

Hairston suspended Justice for 10 days without pay.

•Ted Garn: The civilian police employee pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault in 1999 after an argument with a girlfriend ended with him throwing her into a freezer.

Then-Chief James Hairston gave Garn - who did not carry a department-issued gun - a written reprimand. He is on extended leave from the department, unrelated to the 1999 complaint.

•Barbara Salinas: The patrol officer's commanders investigated her last year for misusing her department-issued equipment when she ran a criminal records check on her husband. She received disciplinary counseling.

Staff writer Karen Hucks contributed to this report.

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658

lisa.kremer@mail.tribnet.com

TACOMA POLICE DEPARTMENT'S DOMESTIC ABUSE INVESTIGATIONS



NAME | RANK | OFFENSE | CHARGED WITH A CRIME | DISPOSITION OF CRIMINAL CASE | POLICE DISCIPLINE | DATE IMPOSED | CHIEF



Robert Skola

patrol officer

Shoved wife, off-duty drunkenness, obstructing police officers

Yes: 4th-degree domestic violence assault, interfering with the reporting of a domestic violence assault, obstruction

Deferred

Quit in lieu of termination

June 2003

Phil Knudsen*



Steve O'Keefe

patrol officer

Slapped and handcuffed stepdaughter

Yes: 4th-degree domestic violence assault

Deferred

12-day suspension

February 2003

David Brame



Valencia Brooks

patrol officer

Unbecoming conduct

No

Not applicable

Department-level written reprimand

February 2003

David Brame



Harold Calabaza

patrol officer

Child rape

Yes: 2nd-degree rape

Pleaded to 2nd-degree attempted sexual misconduct with a minor

Fired

August 2002

David Brame



Valencia Brooks

patrol officer

Sent personal e-mail to ex-boyfriend from work computer

No

Not applicable

Bureau-level written reprimand

July 2002

David Brame



Barbara Salinas

patrol officer

Misuse of department equipment to do criminal background check on husband

No

Not applicable

Counseling

Date withheld

David Brame



Ron Lewis

detective

Having a records check done for vehicles registered to his estranged wife

No

Not applicable

Written reprimand

January 2000

James Hairston



Ted Garn

civilian employee

Assaulted girlfriend

Yes: 4th-degree domestic violence assault

Pleaded guilty

Written reprimand

September 1999

James Hairston



Michael Justice

patrol officer

Assaulted girlfriend

Yes: 4th-degree domestic violence assault

Deferred

10-day suspension

December 1998

James Hairston



* Knudsen, Tacoma's Human Resources director, received Skola's case for review after the death of Police Chief David Brame, who was to have decided April 28 whether to fire the officer.

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