YAKIMA, Wash. — A former Yakima police officer who says he was wrongly arrested and jailed for violating a protection order is seeking damages from the city of Yakima and the director of the Yakima County Department of Corrections.
Richard “Rick” Schuknecht, 57, maintains police arrested him in 2011 without properly vetting information given them by Corrections Director Ed Campbell, which Schuknecht’s attorney says was deliberately fabricated.
Schuknecht filed a $1 million claim against the city last month. A claim must be filed before a lawsuit can be initiated against a city or county. No amount is specified in a separate, but related, lawsuit filed against Campbell in Yakima County Superior Court, also last month. Neither a claim nor a lawsuit has been filed against the county, where Campbell oversees the corrections department.
In separate interviews, an attorney for the city and Campbell denied the accusations.
“It’s the city’s position that the officers acted appropriately and that there was probable cause for the arrest,” Assistant City Attorney Helen Harvey said last week. “If the city is sued, the city will defend the claim.”
The lawsuit alleges Campbell provided false information to Yakima police in November 2011, accusing Schuknecht of being within 1,000 feet of his estranged wife, in violation of a protection order.
Schuknecht’s attorney, Bill Pickett, said police arrested his client without adequately considering contrary evidence or Campbell’s relationship with the estranged couple.
The complaint alleges Campbell had motivation to get Schuknecht in trouble because Campbell was having an affair with Schuknecht’s wife, who was an employee in the county Department of Corrections at the time.
In an interview Thursday, Campbell said he was able to report that Schuknecht violated the protection order because he was with her at the time.
“I had made a report to the Yakima city police department just as any other witness of a crime would,” Campbell said.
Pickett said Schuknecht was readily able to provide information proving Campbell’s report was wrong, but city police ignored it. He said Schuknecht had been working at home all day on his computer and couldn’t have been where Campbell said he was.
“He never violated any order of protection,” Pickett said.
At the time, Schuknecht was on paid administrative leave from the police department, stemming from harassment charges pending against him for allegedly threatening his wife and Campbell, Pickett said.
“We know (Campbell) was motivated to have Officer Schuknecht arrested,” he said. “He was having an affair with his wife. That’s something any reasonable police officer would look at before taking someone to jail.”
It was unclear from interviews and a review of public documents filed in the case who else police spoke with before arresting Schuknecht on suspicion of violating the protection order.
Campbell repudiated the claims against him and declined to comment on his relationship with Theresa Schuknecht, who is named in the complaint as the wife of the former officer.
She no longer works for the county, said Judy Kendall, a spokeswoman for the county’s Human Resources Department. Kendall said the county does not have a policy that prohibits employees or superiors and their subordinates from dating.
Divorce proceedings between Schuknecht and his wife are ongoing, Pickett said.
In April 2012, Schuknecht pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of harassment related to the threats he was alleged to have made against his estranged wife and Campbell while he was on duty six months earlier.
Schuknecht originally faced felony charges in the case but they were lowered as part of a plea agreement. He retired from the police department in October 2012 after 26 years with the department, a city human resources representative said.
Schuknecht’s complaint against Campbell states the protection order violation charge was dismissed on the merits of the case. Pickett bases that on language in the April plea agreement that dismissed the charge because prosecutors deemed it “not necessary or desired.”
“Our position on that is it was not desired because there was never any crime committed,” Pickett said.
But Harvey said the language doesn’t represent any substantive judgment by prosecutors on the evidence associated with the charge.
“That is not correct,” said Harvey, who stated the charge was dismissed as part of the April plea agreement.
Schuknecht was given credit for two days he had already served in jail, with 362 days suspended. In a statement to the court, Schuknecht apologized to the victims, his family and the police department.
Several officers and a sergeant who worked with Schuknecht reported to superiors that he made multiple threatening statements to choke his wife and shoot Campbell during his patrol shift in 2011, according to court documents.
“I’m a victim of (Schuknecht),” Campbell said. “And this is just a continuation of harassment.”
The 2011 comments were made on the same day that Schuknecht learned he had lost a court ruling in his divorce case. He told at least some of the officers that he did not intend to carry out the threats, according to court documents.
Steve Jackson, the Yakima County deputy prosecutor who handled the harassment case, told the Yakima Herald-Republic when the plea deal was made in April 2012 that it was done in cooperation with the victims.
He also said that Schuknecht had spent nearly three months in an unspecified treatment program out of state.
Friday, Jackson told the Herald-Republic that the dismissal of the charge of violating the protection order was not an acknowledgement by the county that the violation didn’t occur.