Special Reports

Tacoma officer arrested after fight with wife

A Tacoma police officer was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of assaulting his estranged wife, marking the first major test of the police department's new domestic violence policy.

A commander took the officer's gun, badge and other equipment before he was taken to Pierce County Jail. The 35-year-old officer, a seven-year veteran of the force, was placed on paid administrative leave.

The News Tribune is not naming the officer because he has not been charged with a crime. He declined to comment Wednesday night.

"We were very quick to respond and to be on board and to know what to do," said interim Police Chief Don Ramsdell. "This will be a test for how this process will work."

Police officials spent nine months crafting the expanded 21-page policy after Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself last April. Commanders consulted with lawmakers, domestic violence advocates, lawyers and other community members.

The policy, which took effect Feb. 23, was designed to address failures in the department that were exposed after the Brame shootings. It emphasizes victim safety, mandates employee training and lays out how the department investigates an officer accused of domestic violence.

"The policy was written for these situations and it's very clear cut," said police spokeswoman Tracy Conaway. "Through this incident, it's going to show the citizens that this behavior will be taken seriously."

Authorities and witnesses gave this account of the incident:

The officer and his wife have been separated for several months, and she has been living in their home in the 3600 block of 64th Avenue West in University Place.

The couple got into an argument about 7 a.m. outside their house and the wife, screaming, went to a neighbor's home and asked for help.

The officer followed, threw her to the ground and both fell down an embankment.

"They both landed on the concrete pretty hard," said University Place sheriff's detachment spokesman Ed Troyer.

During the confrontation, several neighbors, including a Tacoma police officer, called 911.

"She claimed she was assaulted," Troyer said. "Per her and the witnesses' statements, he was the aggressor."

The officer, who was not on duty at the time, was arrested without incident. Deputies took the officer's personal gun and notified the police department about the officer's arrest. Tacoma police officials came and took the officer's department-issued equipment.

He was booked into Pierce County Jail on suspicion of fourth-degree domestic violence assault, a misdemeanor. He posted bail and is to be in court Friday.

Paramedics took his wife to Tacoma General Hospital because she complained of soreness, Troyer said. She later was released.

The police department has launched an Internal Affairs investigation and the Pierce County Sheriff's Department's domestic violence unit is investigating.

The officer has been under investigation by the police department before.

In 1999, he was issued a written reprimand after an administrative investigation found he'd harassed a Tacoma woman who turned down his numerous requests for dates.

Ramsdell said the revised policy adds structure to how the department handles officer-involved domestic violence situations and provided for smooth handling of Wednesday's arrest.

"With written guidelines, it provides us with a blueprint to go by," he said. "Our response is more holistic than it was in the past and more coordinated."

The incident is the most serious domestic violence case since the new policy was implemented, said Capt. Tom Strickland, the police department's family violence coordinator and primary author of the policy.

The few "domestic violence concerns" that have been raised since Feb. 23 have been handled internally, he said.

"Nothing was even close to criminal," Strickland said. "Just some contentious divorces and things like that that we're keeping an eye on. We're explaining (policies) to both spouses and making sure no criminal actions do happen."

Staff writer Lisa Kremer contributed to this report.

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268


SIDEBAR: The new police policy in action

Tacoma police Capt. Tom Strickland wrote the department's new policy on officer-involved domestic violence. He gave this account of how the department followed the policy in connection with Wednesday's incident:

•After University Place deputies notified Tacoma police that an officer had been accused of assaulting his estranged wife about 7 a.m., the officer's lieutenant was sent to the scene.

•The officer immediately was suspended, and his weapon, badge and patrol car were taken away.

•The police department Internal Affairs unit launched an investigation.

•Strickland called the officer's estranged wife to make sure she knew how to reach domestic violence victim resources, and to tell her that victim advocates would contact her later.

He also let her know he wanted to minimize his and other Tacoma officers' involvement in the case so she wouldn't feel they were trying to influence her.

He then called victim advocates and made sure they contacted the woman.

•At 11 a.m., officers from Internal Affairs and all of the department's captains and chiefs met to go over the new policy and ensure it was being followed.

•About 4 p.m., when the officer was released from Pierce County Jail, Strickland made sure the officer's wife knew he'd been released.

•The officer was placed on paid administrative leave until interim Chief Don Ramsdell decides what, if any, discipline is necessary.

Lisa Kremer, The News Tribune