Forks police chief fired by new mayor

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

FORKS -- In one of his first acts as mayor, Bryon Monohon fired Police Chief Mike Powell on Monday.

"I have determined that there is need for new leadership in the Forks Police Department," Monohon said in a prepared statement.

Contacted by the Peninsula Daily News for further comment, Monohon declined to cite specific reasons for Powell's dismissal, calling it a "personnel issue."

Monohon, who officially took office as the city's top administrator Jan. 1, had kept quiet on the issue throughout last fall's mayoral campaign, declining at that time to say whether he intended to make personnel changes.

Municipal code

On Monday, the mayor's prepared statement specifically cited the Forks Municipal Code, which says that "the chief of police of Forks shall be appointed by the mayor and shall serve at the pleasure of the mayor."

Powell was hired in February 2001 by then-Mayor Phil Arbeiter and was making about $64,000 annually in 2009.

Monohon said more information would be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks.

"I don't at this point have any more to say," Monohon told the Peninsula Daily News.

"There will be more that will come out soon."

Deputy Chief Lloyd Lee was appointed as acting chief effective immediately, Monohon said.

In addition to Lee, the department employs five other patrol officers.

A cell phone for Powell went directly to voice mail, and he did not return messages for comment.

Former Mayor Nedra Reed also declined comment

Employee firings

Powell had been at the center of small-town controversy after three Forks Police Department employees were fired in February 2008.

Police Sgt. Tom Scott -- who ran an unsuccessful City Council race against John Hillcar in the November election -- Sgt. JoElle Munger and Communications Officer Deanna Dematteis were fired effective Feb. 29, 2008.

Reed had ordered two investigations into Powell's conduct in 2007, and a third investigation was ordered by Reed and carried out by the Association of Washington Cities to look into the conduct of the three employees.

The trouble began in early 2007 when Reed received complaints from internal staff and anonymous letters and e-mails about Powell.

The letters and complaints accused the police chief of using his position to extradite the husband of a woman he was dating while he was married, suggesting that he had disciplined another officer for an extramarital affair and that he should be held to the same standard.

Reed launched the investigation by City Attorney Rod Fleck, who determined that Powell had split with his then-wife and the charges were without merit.

In multiple meetings throughout April 2007, Scott, Dematteis, Munger and Dixon urged Reed to fire Powell.

In May 2007 Munger filed a sexual harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which determined that her claim didn't rise to the level of sexual harassment.

Counseling ordered

After the investigation, Powell was counseled on his conduct and all employees were given mandatory training.

On June 4, 2007, Reed wrote a "cease and desist" letter instructing employees that Powell had been investigated and that the charges against him were unsubstantiated.

"At this point, I must direct all employees to cease the extensive level of harmful and often misleading gossip that continues to circulate and has been brought to my attention," Reed wrote.

John Hayduke, an arbiter from Seattle, determined that there was sufficient cause for the three firings.

Important to his decision was an incident in August 2007 in which Dematteis suspected that she and a fellow co-worker had been taped by a small recorder left in the room by an officer.

Dematteis, Scott and Munger reported the recording to the Clallam County Sheriff's Department. They later told Powell, but did not tell him they had reported it as a crime.

Jefferson investigation

The investigation was referred to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, which found insufficient evidence of any crime having been committed.

In March 2008, after being fired, Scott and Dematteis -- along with Powell's ex-wife, Karleen Powell -- filed an unsuccessful attempt to recall Reed as mayor.

The legal fees defending against the recall and the unsuccessful suits by the three employees cost the city more than $300,000.

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 11. 2010 11:27PM
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