City council holds special public meeting on L.S. Police Department
It was standing room only last Wednesday, December 19 at the public meeting held by city staff and council.
Earlier that day mediation was held in regards to the lawsuit filed by Brandon Fenter in U.S. District Court in Seattle where two Lake Stevens police officers allegedly arrested Fenter illegally.
“We wanted to update council on the Fenter lawsuit mediation,” City Administrator Jan Berg said.
The city’s insurance company has agreed to pay Fenter $100,000 and in return the Fenters will drop the lawsuit which was filed earlier this month.
“The Fenters are very glad that this civil rights lawsuit is all over and they can move on with their lives,” Justin Monro, the Fenter’s attorney said. “The settlement of $100,000.00 was fair from the City of Lake Stevens. The Fenters appreciated the fact that the City of Lake Stevens wanted to end this civil rights claim early on in the litigation process.”
According to the lawsuit Lake Stevens police officer Steve Warbis was walking with his family along 83rd Ave. NE in Marysville when Fenter’s SUV drove by and Warbis stopped the vehicle. This happened on June 20, 2011 the lawsuit states.
Warbis, who was off duty at the time, allegedly accused Fenter of driving recklessly and told him he would be getting a citation in the mail.
The next day Warbis and Officer Wellington showed up at the Fenter’s home and arrested Fenter after kicking down his gate, the lawsuit states.
An internal investigation was conducted by former Lake Stevens Police Chief Randy Celori and was closed out. A few months later the Fenters filed a claim against the city. Soon after the claim was filed they filed the lawsuit.
The City wanted to put the lawsuit behind them and chose to go to mediation in hopes of avoiding a trial.
“Litigation is a drain on taxpayer resources. The City decided to resolve this matter at the earliest stage possible to limit resources expended on the case,” Berg said. “Settlement of this matter was the best resolution for all parties involved. The City has had some issues and has and will continue to take action to move forward.”
“The Fenters hope that this $100,000 settlement will serve as a message to the City of Lake Stevens and their police officers that this type of unlawful arrest in a person’s home is a violation of person’s Constitutional rights,” Monro said.
“The special meeting also included the opportunity for the Lake Stevens City Council and the Lake Stevens Police Guild to reaffirm their joint commitment to the public for an exemplary department,” Berg said.
Councilmember Todd Welch told the crowd that serving the public and getting paid through taxpayer dollars is an honor.
“Most of the police department and the city employees are very good and they do their jobs well. It’s just a small percentage that aren’t doing it well,” he said.
Councilmember Neal Dooley shared his appreciation for all that the police department does for the community.
“I still have a lot of strong confidence in our police department,” he said. “It’s a difficult time but I think we can get through this.”
Councilman John Spencer wanted to make sure that the staff and police department are working together to be the best that they can be. He wanted to ensure that the police guild understands the expectations for the future.
Police Guild President Jim Barnes took a moment to address the council on behalf of the police officers.
Barnes talked about the rapid growth of the city and the economic downturn and how both of those can affect a police department and a city.
“Promises were made that could not be kept because of this economic crisis—the Lake Stevens Police Guild and most of our citizens understand this reality,” he said.
He was also clear that officers do make mistakes and those mistakes are dealt with.
“As you all know, some of our police officers have made mistakes that have impacted the City, the police department, and their own families and careers. These mistakes have been investigated, some by outside agencies, and any officers who violated laws or department policies have been disciplined. Officers who make mistakes are held accountable for their behavior. In some cases, officers appropriately lost their jobs as a result of their improper behavior,” Barnes said. “The Lake Stevens Police Department is filled with dedicated officers who care deeply about our community. The City of Lake Stevens does a fine job of selecting qualified candidates as police officers, but we are all human beings, and as such are not perfect.”
He added, “however, I would put the integrity of the officers of the Lake Stevens Police Department against any law enforcement agency in the area. I do understand that the public holds law enforcement officers to a higher standard and rightfully so. The Lake Stevens Police Guild is committed to serving the citizens of Lake Stevens with the highest honor.”
Barnes also encouraged the city to begin the process of finding a full-time police chief as soon as possible.
“Our current interim chief, Dan Lorentzen, has stepped up to the plate and is moving things in the right direction,” Barnes said.