Special Reports

Officer allegedly stalked wife

Tacoma police officials are looking into third-hand allegations that one of its commanders has been stalking his wife.

Acting Police Chief Don Ramsdell received a complaint concerning the high-ranking officer via e-mail Thursday and took several steps to have it investigated.

"We aren't going to fool around with domestic violence violations," police spokesman Jim Mattheis said. "If there were mistakes made in the past, we are not going to repeat them."

The complaint alleged the officer had slept in his car outside a local hospital where his wife works. It also said she has fled their home and confided in friends that she fears her husband.

The News Tribune is not naming the officer because he has not been charged with a crime.

Ramsdell took action after John Hathaway, publisher of the Web-based publication, The New Takhoman, sent the acting chief excerpts of an anonymous e-mail he received containing the allegations against the commander.

The excerpts also were sent to the Tacoma city manager, the city attorney, the Gig Harbor police chief, two local attorneys, a Pierce County deputy prosecutor and two media outlets.

Ramsdell then asked the Pierce County Sheriff's Department to investigate the accusation. A deputy contacted the wife and offered her domestic violence services.

"Our preliminary information is nothing like what was originally reported" in the e-mail to Ramsdell, said sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.

He declined to elaborate about what the deputy had learned, beyond saying she had written a report.

The Sheriff's Department's domestic violence unit will follow up on the case and send the results of its investigation to Pierce County prosecutors for review, Troyer said.

Tacoma police also asked the Sheriff's Department to conduct an Internal Affairs investigation into the complaint. The administrative investigation is one the police department normally would do.

Meanwhile, Tacoma police told the commander of the allegations and of the pending investigation, Mattheis said.

The department had received no other domestic violence allegations against the commander, Mattheis said.

The officer - one of 25 members of the department's command staff - was not placed on administrative leave but will be closely supervised by his superiors, Mattheis said.

"We talked with the legal department and Human Resources and, at this time, there was insufficient reasons for putting the officer on leave," he said.

How the Police Department handles domestic violence complaints against its own has been in the spotlight since Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, then himself on April 26.

Brame had confided in several members of the department and the city about his messy divorce.

Crystal and David Brame had accused each other of physical abuse in their divorce paperwork. The allegations were first publicized four days before the shootings, though the city took no immediate action.

Thursday's domestic violence allegation was the second Ramsdell has dealt with since the Brame shooting. About two weeks ago, the department received an abuse complaint against another officer, Mattheis said.

The Police Department interviewed the officer, and a sheriff's deputy contacted the victim. The allegation was ruled unfounded, Mattheis said.

In handling domestic violence allegations, Mattheis said, the department is trying to follow the Chicago Police Department's nationally recognized program.

In Chicago, domestic violence victim advocates meet with victims, explain their rights and counsel them.

Meanwhile, a team of civilian investigators examines domestic violence complaints against officers. The investigators conduct interviews and analyze the facts to determine whether the officers should be disciplined.

The model puts the safety of the victims first.

Tacoma police are evaluating their domestic violence policy.

"We are still working on what our new process is going to be," Mattheis said.

Ann Eft, director of the Pierce County Commission Against Domestic Violence, said she believed the department handled the allegations properly.

"I don't see what else they can do at this point," she said.

"Maybe there's nothing going on, or maybe she's not ready to come forward yet," Eft said of the commander's wife. "Hopefully, if he is stalking, he'll get the message that someone is watching him now."

Staff writer Lisa Kremer contributed to this report.

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268