Special Reports

Officer won't face charges for e-mail

The e-mail Tacoma police union leader Patrick Frantz sent to city critic John Hathaway in late April was an embarrassment to the city, but it wasn't a crime.

That's the conclusion state prosecutors reached this week in deciding whether Frantz's words - "If you want to throw stones you had better live in a bulletproof glass house" - were harassment.

The state attorney general won't file any charges against Frantz, said Brian Moran, the state's chief criminal prosecutor.

Frantz, who has been on paid leave since early May, said he hoped to return to work today. Police spokesman Jim Mattheis said city personnel officials will set a date for his return soon.

"Our judgment only reaches the issue of whether or not a crime has been committed," said Mark Larson, King County's chief criminal deputy prosecutor, who worked as a special assistant attorney general on the Frantz case. "There are many circumstances where it doesn't mean people made good choices or did things that were noble. This falls into that category."

Frantz, who sent the e-mail two days after Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself, said there was never any doubt about whether the e-mail was a threat.

"I think people have been untruthful," he said. "And I think the people who investigated this saw through the untruthfulness made by two individuals. I'll just leave it at that."

Hathaway, who learned of the decision through a letter mailed to him Wednesday, said only, "I have no comment."

City officials expressed surprise that the investigation took so long.

"I was interviewed months ago," said Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma. "It seems like it took forever for them to reach what seemed like a fairly obvious conclusion. But it was a serious matter, and it needed some review and attention."

Larson said it was like peeling pieces of an onion, "letting the whole investigation mature."

"Certainly, we're not done, either," he said of the investigations related to the Brame case.

Frantz's e-mail is still the subject of an internal investigation by the police department, Mattheis said. That investigation, which had been put on hold during the criminal investigation, can now proceed, Mattheis said.

On April 30, two days after the Brame shootings, Frantz sent the e-mail to Hathaway, who runs an online publication that regularly criticizes city government.

The e-mail was in response to a cartoon Hathaway sent to city officials blasting the police leadership for not doing anything when they learned about David Brame's marital problems.

Frantz sent his reply to Hathaway, as well as to the mayor and the entire City Council, and to David Seago, the editorial page editor at The News Tribune.

It mentioned "Joe" and "Charlie" - presumably Lt. Joseph Kirby and Capt. Charlie Meinema - saying, "we are going to air other factual dirty laundry on others."

Kirby, who received a copy of the e-mail from Hathaway, also told investigators he considered it a threat to his life.

Kirby showed the e-mail to Meinema, who told investigators that while it concerned him, he didn't consider it threat. Meinema said he preferred that the issue be handled by the department internally, rather than criminally.

Frantz told a detective he sent the e-mail to try to get people to work together and to stop rumors. Although Frantz acknowledged he used poor word selection in the e-mail - saying "bulletproof" instead of "shatterproof" - he said he didn't intend to threaten anyone.

In a letter to Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne, who had asked the attorney general's office to review the case, Moran and Larson said prosecutors wouldn't be able to prove harassment beyond a reasonable doubt.

"To do so, we would have to prove that Officer Frantz knowingly conveyed a threat to Mr. Hathaway, and/or Lt. Kirby and/or Capt. Meinema, and that the words he used conveyed a reasonable fear that the threat would be carried out," Moran explained.

He said Frantz's explanation, while potentially self-serving, does seem truthful.

"If we were to assume that Officer Frantz truly intended to threaten Mr. Hathaway, why would he have sent a copy of the alleged threat to the Mayor, the entire Tacoma City Council, and an editor of the Tacoma News Tribune?" Moran's letter says. "Why wouldn't he have merely picked up the telephone and uttered the threat, at least thereby affording himself the ability to deny it ever happened?"

The state also would have to prove the "Joe" and "Charlie" in the e-mail were, in fact, Kirby and Meinema. Even more problematic for prosecutors would be that Frantz never sent the e-mail to Kirby and Meinema, two of the alleged victims.

And perhaps most important, prosecutors had to consider how "reasonable and objective" jurors would interpret the e-mail, Moran and Larson's letter says. For some indication, they turned to their witness interviews with Baarsma and City Council members.

"While there was unanimous agreement among these witnesses that the words were inappropriate, even shocking, not one of them viewed the words as a threat," the letter says.

Even Meinema, one of the alleged victims, didn't see the words as personally threatening, the letter says.

"There is no reason to believe that a jury would view them any differently," the letter concludes.

"Nothing in this letter should be interpreted to condone or minimize Officer Frantz's behavior in this matter," the letter reads. "We are troubled that a police officer would author and send, apparently after some reflection, the e-mail at issue here. Officer Frantz's e-mail was an embarrassment and came at a cost to the city and the department."

Frantz, a community liaison officer, had been paid $16,600 in salary and received about $1,770 in medical, dental and vision benefits through Sunday while on administrative leave, according to payroll records from the city's Human Resources Department. Frantz earns $27.16 an hour, or about $56,500 a year.

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660

karen.hucks@mail.tribnet.com

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659

kris.sherman@mail.tribnet.com

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