PORT ANGELES — Unsubstantiated claims by Dale T. Wilson, candidate for the District 3 seat on the Clallam County Board of County Commissioners, triggered a 2017 investigation into whether a Port Angeles woman was having sex with Port Angeles Police Officers to gain information not available to the public.
Wilson, publisher of the Port O Call blog, in court papers and on his website also accused Chelsea Ward of heading a “domestic terrorist organization,” which he has long said harasses homeless people in Port Angeles.
The investigation by Bremerton police found that Wilson’s allegations of sexual misconduct had no basis in fact.
His repeated writings in Port O Call, once a monthly print publication, about Ward and her involvement with the Our Town Facebook group and his comments to multiple officials questioning whether she was having sex with officers led to an anti-harassment order that was granted July 6, 2017 in Clallam County District Court 1 and then affirmed in Clallam County Superior Court after Wilson appealed.
That anti-harassment order expired July 6.
“Dale invaded every aspect of my personal life,” Ward said. “He tormented me to the point where I felt safe nowhere and was always wondering what he would do next. I have experienced overwhelming anxiety often ever since Dale started his tirade.”
Wilson, reached by phone Wednesday, said he did not want to comment on the anti-harassment order. He said he wanted to provide a written statement, but never sent one to the Peninsula Daily News.
“Do you want to come down and have a man-to-man conversation and let me record it if you’re going to record it?” he asked the reporter Wednesday. “I’m not going to have a one-handed conversation where you have the … I don’t trust your editor to put forth the facts of the matter. I don’t think you guys want to see me get elected and I think you’ll do all you can to prevent it.”
Wilson is one of three candidates vying for the District 3 seat on the Board of County Commissioners. Incumbent Bill Peach, a Republican who has held the office for one term, and Mike Doherty, a Democrat who previously held that office for four consecutive terms, are also competing for the position.
The top two vote getters during the Aug. 7 primary will move forward to the November 6 general election.
Pro tem District Court Judge Larry Freedman heard the anti-harassment case on July 6, 2017. Wilson, who was served papers informing him of the hearing on June 16, 2017, did not appear in court.
Ward told Freedman that Wilson initially supported Our Town’s goals of reducing the impact of drug abuse and crime in the community, but in 2016 wrote that Our Town members were harassing homeless people, brandishing firearms and stealing their belongings. He wrote that Ward is the administrator of the group.
The case Wilson wrote about, which involved three men who went to a homeless camp, was referred to the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, but charges were never filed because of conflicting accounts of what happened.
When arson was suspected in the burning of a travel trailer parked on the side of state Highway 112 in 2016, Wilson wrote a story with the headline ‘Torching of travel-trailer has ‘Our Town’ feel to it.’”
Officials said Thursday the investigation was inactive and that no arrests were made.
During the hearing, Ward said the “most damaging example” of slander was when Wilson made comments to city officials questioning whether Ward slept with on-duty officers while she was a volunteer for the Port Angeles Police Department.
In August 2016 Wilson asked Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith and now Deputy Chief Jason Viada whether Ward was sleeping with police officers, according to a Bremerton Police Department investigation report.
According to a transcript of an interview with investigators, Wilson told investigators that he “asked ‘em point blank ‘who was sleeping with Chelsea?’”
Wilson told investigators he told City Manager Dan McKeen that “there was an outside influence on the police department due to alleged improper relationships,” according to the transcript.
Wilson on Wednesday said he didn’t ask any questions about officers sleeping with Chelsea Ward or police volunteers.
“It was the city manager’s office that requested that investigation, not me,” Wilson said. “The fact of it is I never made that statement.”
Smith wrote in a memo to Human Resources that after the conversation with Wilson, he and Viada talked about the conversation, which Smith called “third party sexual harassment.”
Viada wrote in a letter to Human Resources that he understood Wilson’s comments to be a question, not an accusation.
“No basis in fact”
“Dale Wilson provided no information to support his accusation/insinuation that [redacted] or any police volunteer was having sex with any Port Angeles police officer,” investigators wrote in their report.
Investigators wrote that Wilson’s accusation is derived from his belief that members of Our Town had too much “insider information” about locations of homeless camps, the existence of arrest warrants and the status of criminal charges.
“The ‘insider information’ … [provided] as examples can readily be obtained from direct observation, web searches, and public records requests,” the report says.
After hearing Ward’s case, Freedman issued an anti-harassment order he said he felt wouldn’t infringe on Wilson’s First Amendment rights.
“I am going to order him not to harass, or intimidate or defame or falsely accuse either you or your family or interfere with your privacy in any way,” Freedman said to Ward during the hearing. “These things that I have ordered him not to do are not legitimate freedom of speech issues. I’m doing this because there is no valid reason I’ve seen shown today for his behavior.”
Wilson appealed the decision and accused Ward of “abusing the court system by using a legitimate legal tool, the anti-harassment statute, to effectively harass the publisher of a newspaper,’ ” Wilson wrote in a motion or a new hearing. “Our Town can only be described as a domestic terrorist organization.”
He published his motion for a new hearing on his website, but the post has since been removed.
In his appeal, he argued his articles were protected by the Constitution and that Ward never presented any evidence of harassment.
Superior Court Judge Christopher Melly disagreed with Wilson and affirmed the anti-harassment order in an opinion he issued March 6.
“Inviting law enforcement officers to investigate the sex life of Ms. Ward and accusing her of being the prime mover behind a ‘domestic terrorist gang’ is a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses and is detrimental to that person,” Melly wrote in his opinion.
“In this era of increased sexual and security awareness, having law enforcement probing into one’s sex life or being accused of being the lead person behind a ‘domestic terrorist gang’ would have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with Ms. Ward’s privacy right and create an intimidating and offensive living environment for her.”
Melly wrote that the anti-harassment order is not a freedom of speech issue and that libel is not protected by the Constitution.
“A publication which tends to expose a living person to hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy, or to deprive him of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse, or to injure him in his business or occupation, is libelous,” Melly wrote. “Inasmuch as libelous speech is not protected it may be a basis for an anti-harassment order.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].