Five employees of the Yakima Police Department have received discipline ranging from a two-day suspension to verbal reprimands for snooping on reports detailing a domestic violence call involving a high-ranking commander.
The punishments were handed down a month ago, according to documents turned over Friday in response to a public records request by the Yakima Herald-Republic.
Kristen Drury, a supervisor in the agency’s crime lab, received the most severe penalty, a two-day suspension. Two evidence clerks, Charity Johnson and Micah “Kelsey” Donaldson, received verbal warnings.
Two commissioned police officers, Sgt. Joe Salinas and Detective Geoff Gronewald, also were disciplined. Salinas, a 24-year veteran, received a written reprimand. Gronewald, an 18-year veteran and 2013 recipient of YPD’s Police Shield Award, the agency’s version of a Purple Heart, received a verbal reprimand.
The officers and clerks were accused of improperly accessing reports by Yakima County sheriff’s deputies detailing a domestic violence call the night of June 29 at the home of Capt. Rod Light, one of Chief Dominic Rizzi Jr.’s top aides.
According to the documents turned over by YPD, rumors began circulating within days about the incident, which deputies had determined was unfounded.
Both officers and all three clerks admitted they had accessed the deputies’ reports, using the Spillman records management system that is jointly used by most law enforcement agencies in the Yakima Valley, including YPD and the sheriff’s office.
They said they did so partly out of curiosity and partly out of concern the incident was not thoroughly investigated by the deputies and was being covered up.
The case, which was investigated by sheriff’s deputies because Light lives just outside city limits, stemmed from a third-hand report that Light had assaulted his wife. However, investigating deputies reported Light’s wife told them no assault had taken place.
Light’s personal life has caused problems on the job before, including a 2010 demotion — later overturned by arbitrator — for having romantic relationships with two different female sergeants. He was single at the time.
According to the disciplinary documents, the accessing of the deputies’ reports violated several departmental policies, including the way allegations of misconduct should be reported and legitimate handling of police reports.
Repeating comments he made in August, when the Herald-Republic first reported the story, Rizzi on Friday said he ordered the investigation in an effort to defuse infighting and litigation that marred the tenure of his predecessor, Sam Granato.
“The rumor mill has to end. That’s what destroys departments,” he said.
Tony Patlan, president of the Yakima Police Patrolman’s Association, said the union has no plans to dispute the punishments and that YPD staff are beginning to understand how Rizzi wants to do business after years of turmoil under Granato.
“There just wasn’t a lot of trustworthiness between us,” he said, referring to Granato. “This chief has a new way of doing business, and so far he’s kept to his word.”
Patlan also said he didn’t blame the officers for taking a peek at the Light domestic violence reports. He agreed with Rizzi that neither Salinas nor Gronewald accessed the reports for malicious purposes.
“If I had known about it, I might have done it, too ... They weren’t trying to burn anybody. They just didn’t trust the system, because of what happened in the past.”
Granato’s seven-year tenure from 2003 to 2010 spawned 10 lawsuits against him and the city over allegations of favoritism and retaliation. Granato, recently hired as police chief in Eagle Pass, Texas, cast himself as a reformer whose troubles started when he proposed mandatory drug testing. He repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
One of those lawsuits was filed in 2011 by Johnson, who claimed she was the victim of harassment, retaliation and discrimination at the hands of both Granato and Light. The case appears dead after her lawyers withdrew earlier this year. But the city and its insurance company have paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle many of the other lawsuits stemming from Granato’s administration.
Rizzi said he was “pleasantly surprised” that of the five YPD employees who improperly accessed the reports, only two were commissioned police officers.
“And even those two did not do this in a malicious manner, I’m convinced of that,” he said, adding, “We are absolutely getting better (as an agency). The trust within the department is building.”
In a side note, YPD’s internal investigation also revealed two Union Gap police officers accessed the deputies’ reports.
Union Gap interim police Chief Greg Cobb said he was informed about the access early on and was satisfied that neither of his officers who looked at the deputies’ reports on the Light incident had ill intent.
Nevertheless, he said the incident exposed a need to clarify the Union Gap Police Department’s policy with regard to ensuring officers have a legitimate purpose “directly” linked to their duties as peace officers.
“We don’t have a horse in this race,” he said. “Having said that, I understand Chief Rizzi’s sensitivity due to their (department’s) history.”