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City Wraps Up Investigation Of First Cartoon, Moves Forward With Second Investigation Of Latest Parody Videos

Mayor: "I think the department has done the right thing in terms of trying to make sure that we do everything appropriately."

Renton Patch sat down with Mayor Denis Law, Police Chief Kevin Milosevich, City Attorney Larry Warren, Chief City Administrator Jay Covington and Communications Director Preeti Shridhar to talk about the surrounding a aimed at the City's police department.

 

Patch - Can you explain the City's internal investigation process and how it works? 

Chief Admin. - The internal investigations related to the videos will go through the Police Department, with consultation from the HR Department. It depends on what the issue is. Depending on what he have, there are City policies that govern the allegations on everything from whistle-blowers to discrimination, whatever the issue is. There's a process that you follow. HR is the department that makes sure that process is handled. The investigations go through multiple departments.

Patch - Will this remain an internal investigation only, or does the City plan to consult an outside investigator?

Attorney - That hasn't even been discussed at this point. We're still trying to figure out which direction we want to go.

Patch - Will the City Council be involved in the current internal investigation?

Chief Admin.  - No, it's all administrative.

Patch - Who authorized the investigations, in terms of the Cyberstalking case going beyond the department and the administration, and filing the search warrant?

Attorney - Well, typically the Police Department develops information and presents it to the judge for a warrant. In this case, one of the prosecutors in my office reviewed the facts contained within the affidavit for a search warrant and came to the conclusion that there was some probable cause to believe a crime had been committed and we'd been warranted to do a further investigation, hence the search warrant.

Patch - How many attorney hours have been devoted to this case?

Attorney - I would say two full-time equivalents for a couple of weeks.

Mayor - The difference here is we hire 'x' number of people here to work for the City Attorney's office and the Police Department. They are required to do a multitude of different tasks, so if they are diverted to doing legal work or investigative work for this process, we're not paying them overtime to do that. It's all part of the job, which means they may have to set some other projects aside for the time being. We haven't spent any additional money (to support these investigations). 

Chief Admin. - A lot of our time, especially in the last couple weeks, have been responding to media requests, which are part of their job, obviously. A lot of our time, now, is responding to these requests, not on the actually investigation.

Patch - How did the City first learn of the videos?

Chief - I received a call over the weekend back in … I think it was March, or April … that the videos were out there. 

Patch - Was the call from someone in the Department?

Chief - No. It was from a former employee.

Patch - Is the person involved in the videos a current employee of the City?

Mayor - The thing that's really important to keep in mind is that we've gone through two investigations: We're going through one right now. And we completed one earlier this year that involved somebody else, and that had to do with our jail. There's been discipline taken in regards to that case. The second set of videos that have been released to the media have been in the hoopla of the search warrant. That is still under investigation and there is nobody who has been identified as a potential suspect in that case. We strongly suspect that it's a police officer or someone who is tied somehow to the department. But nobody has been identified in that case.

Chief - In regards to the one video that we were aware of that posted in January of this year was investigated, and the people who were involved had been identified within the department and have been disciplined this year, including the demotion of two Police employees Charles Marsalisi (from Deputy Chief to Sergeant in early July) and Bill Judd (from Sergeant to Officer on August. 11).

Comm. Dir. - And that was an internal matter not linked at all to this recent search warrant or the potential cyberstalking.

Patch - How many people were involved with the first video?

Chief - The employees that were disciplined? Four.

Patch - When did the second set of videos appear?

Comm. Dir. - We were made aware of them by the phone call the chief received sometime in April.

Patch - What was the City's rational for pursuing the Cyberstalking case?

Attorney - There's the cyberstalking statute. If you read the statute and look at certain segments of the films, you see whether that meets the definition of the statute. The opinion of my office has been that it's probable cause to believe that Cyberstalking had been committed. It meets the words of the statute. I believe today that a crime was committed, we just don't have the identity and the information to put it all together and file the charge against somebody. You can't file a charge against Mr. Fuddlesticks. We can't get the facts in order necessary to file a charge now, but there's still a possibility of a charge, but we'd have to develop information that would support and identity. We're a long ways from a criminal charge and it doesn't look likely at this point.

Patch - So the first investigation is complete (with the exception that the employees who were disciplined have the option of an appeal process). The second internal investigation is ongoing now with the second set of videos. Will the City still press press criminal charges, related to the second investigation, if the video's creator can be identified?

Mayor - Yes, well, here is the thing with the second set of videos. We're investigating a harassment and potential discrimination against employees, caused by, what we believe to be another employee. We have very strict rules against that. People can be terminated over (harassment or discrimination), and so on. The Police Department and the City Attorney's office have also determined that elements of a couple of those videos which could constitute cyberstalking. So if we find out a police officer, who once again can be held to a much higher standard, is involved, and that there may be a criminal element, we will send that to the prosecutor for potential charges. … If we were able to identify the person, and it turned out to be a City employee, and it turned out to have some illegal activity associated with it, and the prosecutor was willing to prosecute that — Yes, we would certainly do that.

Patch - What if the video's creator is not a City Employee?

Mayor - The big issue with the public is the perception that if 'Joe Q' citizen takes a shot at the police, or takes a shot at public officials that we're going to go after them on a First Amendment basis, that they don't get to be critical of us. That's so far from the truth, its almost silly. … We never would have gone after a private citizen, they have the right to say anything they want.

Attorney - As public officials, we're covered by the New York Times v. Sullivan case, and there has to be a deliberate untruth or a reckless indifference to the truth. That's a a pretty high standard, so the message generally is you better develop a thick skin if you're going to be a public official.

Comm. Dir. - It's the public's right to express their opinion and it's our duty to be mindful of that and protect it, and have a thick skin.

Patch - Is the City working with the Police Guild on this issue?

Mayor - Every employee has rights, some of them protected by the Guild, so there are processes associated with it. The Chief is communication to the Guild and keeping them informed about what is going on, but this is an internal investigation that will take place no matter what. It is part of the process.

Patch - There are a mix of allegations in the videos. Can you identify which ones are true and which ones are false?

Attorney -  Most of them are so dated, they happened years ago. Like Preeti said, most are untrue, the facts are all wrong, they happened over 20 years ago. One allegation was based on a lawsuit where the officer was completely exonerated. … It's of no interest. A lot of these allegations are based on nothing more than rumors, and the facts aren't even close.

Patch - Have any other internal investigations escalated to the courts?

Chief Admin.  - My memory sometimes goes back that far but, but I can't recall 

Chief - If it has been determined that an officer has committed a crime, then it would go through the court process first. After the court process is concluded, then we'd do a separate internal investigation.

Chief Admin. -  I can think of one attempt before I got here (around 1986). Nothing that involved a police officer, but we had a records clerk that ended up stealing, I think, the Union's money, or something like that. So it would have likely been initiated with an internal.

So that's how it happened: you get some allegation, you start to look into it, as you get information - if it looks like its going to get more serious - you bring in law enforcement, and you get to investigate it as a criminal charge.

Attorney - I can remember several incidents over that time. With hundred of employees over 37 years, you're bound to have somebody do something wrong. (Larry Warren has been with the City for 37 years, and the City currently has 682 employees).

Mayor - You have to remember that a police officer can be arrested for a DUI. It has nothing to do with the job but he can, but he can still face discipline within this department because they're held to a higher standard. If there's been any investigations for bad behavior or illegal behavior by a police officer - over the course of any of our memories - it's usually something associated with off-duty behavior that, still, they are held to a higher standard here and will face discipline within the department for those actions.

Patch - Mayor, do you think this was a mistake to pursue the Cyberstalking charges.

Mayor - I don't think we have an obligation to second guess whether people should be pursued if they are potentially breaking the law. I think the department has done the right thing in terms of trying to make sure that we do everything appropriately. It could be construed as a mistake because even - we all know it is a long shot - there are so many parameters that would have to fall into place in order for you to actually file charges. But the notion that we may have a police officer that is not only harassing fellow employees and that sort of thing, but maybe breaking the law, is something that we need to look at. And that's what we've done. … It's an internal issue that we're trying to fix, and we're not going to allow somebody internally to break the law, particularly a police officer. So if we can determine (if it's a city employee) the prosecutor is going to file charges, if we could. We have to identify somebody and still build a case.

It would be nice for us to sit back and say let's just not do it because it's going to bring unpopular attention to us, but we're just not in that world. We have to do what is appropriate and what's right, and that's what's taken place.

Renton Leader August 16, 2011 at 12:41 AM
This is huge embarassment for the city. We're never going to attract new high tech business with our new reputation as backwards witch hunters. And, I would like a complete independent investigation of the torid cases discussed in the search warrant.
jdrabe August 16, 2011 at 05:57 AM
Apparently the city still believes that if you are a city employee, then the first amendment of the US constitution doesn't apply and neither does article1 section seven of the state consitution. It sounds like they need a new chief, new mayor and new prosecuting attorney.The witch hunt apparently continues, even with a stay of the search warrant. I hope Fuddlesticks sticks it to them in a Federal Court.
Mrfuddlesticks August 16, 2011 at 06:18 AM
O.k. fine I'm Mrfuddlesticks and I do not work for the city of Renton so now can you eat some crow and get back to work. Do I need to call my lawyer Mr. Harish Bharti and get paid for showing my video and not asking if you could do it? You now have de-valued my work and everyone thinks it was about Renton. I did not name anyone or Renton in all my videos and the part about cyberstalking?? Go for it maybe me and Mr. Bharti will take that law down and get paid doing it or just plead the fifth. Oh shit I’ve talked too much!! Know your rights! look up Flex your rights there a Youtube channel for it.
jdrabe August 16, 2011 at 06:25 AM
Sue the pants off of them. Go for it!!
Beth Asher August 16, 2011 at 03:17 PM
Since when does satire, parody or sarcasm rate this kind of a full-time witch hunt? Whether you're an employee of the city or not you still have the freedom in this country to express your views. If you think your boss is an idiot or that something's not according to Hoyle in your department you have every right to lampoon it. Or do you????? Where's the ACLU when you need them! They should jump on this abuse of power with both feet!
Phyllis Forister August 16, 2011 at 06:03 PM
All of these people from the City and the Chief of Police sit down for this interview and it appears that they all feel good about demoting various policemen for knowledge and/or creating of a cyber cartoon that exposed them and embarrassed them. All the while they have chosen to ignore the fact that Deputy Chief Tim Troxel, a policeman for 27 years, abused his authority over subordinates by having them go with him so he could spy (stalk ) a woman in Newcastle, on two different occasions. This exhibited irrational behavior that many would say led to the criminal behavior of trespassing, stalking and entering property that wasn't his. While several in the police department have been demoted for knowledge of the cyber cartoon Deputy Chief Troxel retains his position as Deputy Chief and was simply given a 24 hour without pay suspension as his punishment. The inability of the City and the Chief of Police to correctly deal with the serious misconduct of Deputy Chief while trying to cover up what they consider embarrassing cyber videos is not only disturbing to citizens but it has to undermine the morale and trust of those that continue to work in the Police Department. To regain trust and respect the Police Chief needs to remove Deputy Chief Troxel from the Renton Police Department and repair the damage caused by the knee jerk reactions.
rentonguy August 16, 2011 at 08:07 PM
More time, money, and effort has been put into this than any other crime, I'm sure. On top of that, it's clearly a constitutional issue. No matter if it is an employee or not, you can't write a search warrant and violate someone's privacy just to fire them. Clearly, the police department was unsure if a crime was committed, so they asked a prosecutor (KCPO so no, so they retried a local prosecutor). If the cops can't tell if a crime was committed, then probably there was no crime. And since prosecutors have immunity, they have nothing to lose to say, "Go for it". And surely, the intention was to NEVER file criminal charges. It's much easier to fight a termination than a criminal trial where the city will get reamed. I would gladly approve of the city paying out in a lawsuit. It is well deserved.
rentonguy August 16, 2011 at 08:10 PM
And also, from Larry Warren's statement that there was "some probable cause" is incredible. "Some" probable cause sounds like "kinda pregnant". Either there was probable cause or there was not. Some doesn't cut it. This guy needs to retire already. How dare he be complicit in this entire affair with the shield of immunity. And Mr Fuddlesticks, please come out and sue the dickens out of the city!
Henry Quesnell August 17, 2011 at 12:08 AM
After watching all 9 of the videos, I definitely think the cyberstalking charge was an overreaction and I'm glad that criminal charges are no longer being pursued. And let's face it, the media firestorm has made the situation a hundred times worse for the people who were mocked in the videos. I suspect some folks are pretty devastated. Despite my misgivings over the cyberstalking charges, I do feel that an internal investigation is warranted. If the maker of the latest videos is discovered, a reprimand or demotion seems reasonable. If I made videos alluding to certain persons or embarrassing events at my place of employment (even if I never specifically mentioned the company's name), I'd pretty much *expect* to get fired if the bosses discovered my identity, especially if my mockery could be considered homophobic, sexist, or sexually provocative. And my termination would surely hold up in court. Why should public employees be held to a different standard? Think about it: what would your company do if someone posted YouTube videos suggesting that a fellow employee was a closeted lesbian? People have been fired for a lot less than that. If MrFiddlesticks had refrained from taking potshots at people's appearances and sexual orientations in the videos, the "whistleblowing" angle could've actually been defensible. But to me, the intention of the videos seems to be to embarrass and punish certain individuals by any means necessary.
Henry Quesnell August 17, 2011 at 12:28 AM
People have every right to express themselves, but the fact is, they could very well lose their jobs as a result. In the non-unionized workforce (almost 9 out of 10 jobs), people get fired for "inappropriate" or "offensive" conduct/statements/emails/blog posts made both in and outside of the office all the time. Not saying it's right, but it's the real world.
rentonben August 17, 2011 at 02:36 AM
For me, the distinction is that the officers are not just employees, but are also citizens who have the right to critique their government.
jdrabe August 17, 2011 at 04:16 AM
Yes, your boss might be able to fire you if he was able to discover who you were, then again your boss doesn't have the full power and authority of the Chief of police and the prosecuting attorneys office to investigate the supposed "Crime", does he? The difference is, the Chief is supposedly working under the color of law to investigate a "Crime" when he is really pursuing a personal vendetta. The only thing Fuddlesticks is guilty of is contempt of Cop which isn't a crime. Do you think the cops would go to that much effort on the behalf of your employer to investigate this so called "crime"? Do you think a judge would even consider issuing a subponae if this was happening in a private workplace?
jdrabe August 17, 2011 at 05:06 AM
It's no wonder the police department has a morale problems with idiots like these in charge.
FedUp August 20, 2011 at 05:30 PM
My question to the City of Renton: Is the criminal investigation OVER, or is it SUSPENDED until you find the 'cyberstalker', or it CONTINUING behind closed doors? What assurance do we have as CITIZENS of this state and country that the City is abiding by the constitution? How can we trust the department? If the city wants to heal, then something needs to be done to prove it to the citizens. I was not satisfied by the interview with Patch and the City. I can't be the only one.
FedUp August 20, 2011 at 05:42 PM
And just how does that happen? Do we ask Renton to re-investigate their own cases? Here's an idea, how about every internal investigation be posted online? Or maybe a public disclosure be sent to the city for all internal investigations and then they get posted online? I'm sure that the department provide at least half of the internals that they want the public to see. The others...will probably never be seen outside the department.
anonymous September 01, 2011 at 08:40 PM
I’m confused now. Attorney: “I believe today that a crime was committed, we just don't have the identity and the information to put it all together and file the charge against somebody. You can't file a charge against Mr. Fuddlesticks. We can't get the facts in order necessary to file a charge now, but there's still a possibility of a charge, but we'd have to develop information that would support and identity.” Mayor: “If we were able to identify the person, and it turned out to be a City employee, and it turned out to have some illegal activity associated with it, and the prosecutor was willing to prosecute that — Yes, we would certainly do that.” So if an employee made the videos, its a crime and they go to jail. If a citizen made the videos, its not a crime and that don’t go to jail. Is that right? Why would the same act be a crime for one person and not a crime for another with these cartoons? And what more information do they need? The only evidence that the entire world has seen is the collection of cartoons? Is there anything more that was not disclosed? I am giving the department the benefit of the doubt since they wrote search warrants, gave media attention by the Chief, Mayor, and City Attorneys Office, and they dedicated 2 attorneys, 1 detective, and 1 officer to this case. It must have some importance due to non-disclosed evidence. Now if I am wrong, and the only evidence is the cartoons, then 'houston, we have a problem'.
jdrabe September 02, 2011 at 03:44 AM
I wanna see some new cartoons! This is hilarious
John Turnbow September 03, 2011 at 05:27 PM
There seems to be a support group for ol' mrfuddlesticks, with new videos popping up all over the internet. http://www.youtube.com/user/runfuddlesticksrun https://sites.google.com/site/deathofspeech/the-renton-pd-fatwah http://www.youtube.com/user/SuperSoylent2#p/a/u/2/EV2USPNBL0U and about a million more. Does Renton PD now go after all these people? How many warrants do they need to write now? And how many of these people get investigated for cyberstalking? Can o' worms ye ol' department has opened.
doggiedoo September 06, 2011 at 06:38 PM
They are really funny. But at the same time, a sad parody of the police department. And to hear that there is now a new and completely unrelated lawsuit based on claims of false statements by the department, I would say that the cartoons are only the tip of the iceberg. Who is policing the police department? http://renton.civicweb.net/FileStorage/B4909D12B5E0474AA88792F52FDE2003-AB.pdf
Tommy Grand September 09, 2011 at 09:22 PM
My mother sent an email to the Mayor about this cartoon investigation yesterday and she only asked if the City believes a crime was committed. All she got in return was Larry Warren sending her an email that it is not his job to advise citizens. He wouldn’t answer the only question she asked about whether or not a crime had been being committed. My mother is about as conservative as they come (which is not like any of her kids!) but today, we at least agreed on this topic. If she lets me have the email from Larry Warren, I’ll copy it here, but she is still holding on to supporting the City in this cause which I cannot understand. So, for anyone even considering making a cartoon like these cartoons, be ready to have search warrants filed by the police department and be jailed for cyberstalking.
Jenny Manning September 09, 2011 at 11:09 PM
Tommy - Thanks for sharing. I'm working on a follow up article, which I expect to post sometime next week, so stay tuned. If you're mother wouldn't mind forwarding me a copy of the email she received, I'd be really interested in reading it. Have a great weekend.
Anonymous September 10, 2011 at 11:40 PM
Let's make sure that NYPD serves warrants on Letterman, Leno, and every other comedian that does the same thing. Let's arrest every news cartoonist that draws a comical picture of a politician that is published online or in a newspaper. The entire cast of Saturday Night Live since its inception needs to be charged with Cyberstalking. Just how many people have they victimized every week that show is aired! I really think you missed an important fact. Not a single person's name was ever mentioned. The Renton Police Department was not mentioned. The sloppy warrant affidavit written by Ryan Rutledge named people that felt they were targeted and there is no proof in that warrant that it was even them. So, I would say that unless something is posted that clearly points to a specific person, and no other person, then there is no harm done, no crime committed, no libel. And to mention a 'closeted lesbian'?...just how many people could that fit? Surely there can't just be one in this country? And potshots at appearances? Come on now. Isn't that what comedians have been doing for centuries? I say you are fat. So arrest me, fire me, sue me.
Anonymous September 10, 2011 at 11:45 PM
jdrabe is also right on the money. A private company, such as Boeing has no avenue or legal authority to have judges sign search warrants to obtain personal information on an employee for something like 'name calling'. But thinking about, neither does a police department have that right, especially when it can't be proven, is known that it cannot be proven, and there is no intention to prove, that a crime was even committed. The police department obtained a search warrant without a crime being committed, with the clear and obvious intention that they were not going to file criminal charges. They just want to fire the guy and give him the 'what for' boot out the door. And they surely must know that if they took it a personal vendetta case like this to court, the judge and jury would eat the city's lunch the first day of trial. I would love to be on that jury.
Tommy Grand September 12, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Here are the excepts from my mother's email. She sent it to the Mayor, but Larry Warren replied. Larry added Chief Milosevich to the emails, but he never replied. Question to Mayor Law: "is it the City’s stance that the cartoons constituted the crime of Cyberstalking in which there was criminal cause for Cyberstalking to be granted a search warrant?” Larry Warren: “I have been asked to respond to your email...A search warrant is one tool in developing the facts. It does not mean a crime has been committed or that one can be proven. “ Response and rephrased question to Larry Warren: “does the City stand with the belief that there was probable cause that the crime of cyberstalking was committed to get a search warrant?” Larry Warren: “The government is fair game for cartoons, critical speech etc. When it changes to an intent to harass another through the use of lewd, indecent language etc., the state has seen fit to criminalize the behavior.’ Response and rephrased question to Larry Warren: “I just want to know if there was probable cause that the crime cyberstalking was committed when the warrant was filed.” Larry Warren: “I don't see much benefit in continuing this conversation, particularly as my duty is to advise the city on legal matters and not individual citizens. My responses so far have been from courtesy, but the effort doesn't seem to be resolving anything, so I don't intend to respond further.”
Tommy Grand September 12, 2011 at 05:00 PM
From what it looks like to me, Denis Law didn't want to answer the question, even tough he is the 'Mayor of Renton'. Mayor Law deferred the question to Larry Warren, who wasn't on the original email. Larry Warren added Kevin Milosevich to the emails, but the Chief didn't chime in, even though he is the 'Chief of Police'. A simple question of if there was cause to believe a crime was committed to obtain the search warrant was never answered. Larry was talking about yelling fire in a crowd (how does that compare?). I feel that the Mayor, the Chief, or City Attorney could have easily answered with a "yes there was" or "no there wasn't" to the one simple question. Now...Mom and her friends are on the verge of marching downtown with an attorney (my sister....) and filing a humongous public disclosure request and even make a website about their displeasure with the city officials. And if you knew my mother, you'd know she will do it. Jenny, if you can get an answer from the City, and it gets posted, soon....I'll keep my mother and her friends at home, but she is hurt at her only ever involvement in politics with her being shunned by all the top officials by asking one question.
Xavier Onassis September 15, 2011 at 11:17 PM
In the interest of serving the public, a Florida deputy and myself have joined forces to support Deputy Chief Marsalisi and Sergeant Judd of the corrupt Renton, Washington police department. Deputy Dog and I are firm believers that integrity and good ethical conduct are prerequisites for public safety. Neither Deputy Dog nor myself knows anyone in Washington State, therefore we call upon anyone who does live there, knows people there, or is otherwise able to get the word out, that we have started a secure message board. The intention is to provide a place where officers or anyone else interested in good government in Renton can come and express themselves freely without fear of a cyberstalking charge. For those who rely on cronyism and knowledge of the closet-skeletons of others to retain their positions in public safety, be advised that message boards can be created for any community that needs one. If you’re not in this to serve the public interest, maybe Wal-Mart is hiring. Deputy Dog has created the message board for Renton at www.rentontalk.com. Come by and say hello. FF Xavier Onassis, EMT-P
No More Renton Patch September 22, 2011 at 05:28 PM
The silence is deafening. What happened to the promised followups to cartoongate? I assume that the Renton Patch, like the Renton Reporter, have chosen to align themselves with the government rather than report the news accurately and truthfully. So, how does a reporter feel when their boss says, "oh no. We aren't going to press with that anti-Renton article. We need the City's support so we can get the weekly incident logs. Trash that article and find something else to report on."
anonymous September 23, 2011 at 12:59 AM
Worse than deafening. Makes me wonder if the Patch even cares to report the news at all. Maybe change the name to "Renton Patch News But Only the News the Mayor Allows Us to Print so it doesn't Embarrass the City".
anonymous September 23, 2011 at 01:00 AM
Hey Larry, how's that Bar complaint going?
Walkingtheline October 22, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Henry, I agree on most of your comment (but comedians take potshots at their targets all the time, this is no different). What you may not know is that criminal charges are still being pursued. I agree to fire the guy, but disagree on filing criminal charges or conducting a criminal investigation. I know that charges would never make it through a jury for a guilty verdict, but the process to get to that point isn't right, will damage the person's reputation and career, and will lead to an expensive lawsuit against the city, in which a jury will rule in favor of the parody creator. The only damage to anyone in this case so far is that which the city named victims in search warrants.

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