Penalty on officer further reduced

Arbitrator says 28-day suspension too harsh in police informant case

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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A reinstated Vancouver police detective has had his suspension reduced by an arbitrator, city officials said Tuesday.

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Arbitrator's decision in Billingsley case

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Detective Brian Billingsley was fired by Police Chief Cliff Cook in 2011 for neglect of duty and other policy violations surrounding his “handling” of Tegan Rushworth — the 2003 Fort Vancouver Rodeo Queen turned felon, methamphetamine user and paid police informant.

City Manager Eric Holmes overruled Cook’s decision, however, and reinstated Billingsley with a 28-day unpaid suspension. The Vancouver Police Guild appealed, saying that suspension was too harsh.

Arbitrator Nancy Brown sided with the union this month, and reduced Billingsley’s suspension to 10 days (or 12 days; the wording of her ruling is unclear and the city has requested clarification). She ordered Vancouver to pay Billingsley for the extra days he missed from work. Holmes said the city will not appeal Brown’s ruling.

The ruling continues the fallout of a sexual relationship between Officer Erik McGarrity and Rushworth, which resulted in McGarrity’s resignation, a criminal investigation by the Washington State Patrol, a two-year internal affairs investigation and unpaid suspensions of two other sworn VPD members.

“The city did not impose discipline in an even-handed manner,” Brown wrote in an April 13 decision. “The level of discipline was not reasonable under the circumstances.”

Brown’s ruling comes on the heels of an April 13 state Public Employment Relations Commission’s decision upholding the union’s belief that the city showed bias against former Police Guild President Ryan Martin when he was passed over for a spot on the motor patrol unit in 2009. Holmes said he has not decided whether to appeal that decision.

Police union President Jeff Kipp said Tuesday that the two decisions largely backing the union demonstrate the continued dysfunction in the Vancouver Police Department between the rank-and-file and the administration.

Two years ago a majority of the union’s approximately 185 members passed a vote of no confidence in Cook’s leadership. The vote still stands, Kipp said.

“This proves what we’ve been saying all along,” Kipp said. “How many times are we going to go through this?”

Both Holmes and Kipp said that they were disappointed that the arbitrator’s ruling did not address how VPD brass applied a new disciplinary matrix. That matrix was put into place following the recommendations of an outside consultant hired in an attempt to ease labor tensions.

The union and city said they will attempt to sit down and negotiate the matter themselves, instead.

“To the extent that we can work with Eric (Holmes) to effect change, we’ll do that,” Kipp said.

Two other suspensions — which the union said are also “scattershot” applications of the discipline matrix — involving the Rushworth case are also being reviewed by an arbitrator.

Sgt. Duane McNicholas was given a 10-day unpaid suspension for five policy violations: socializing with informants; neglect of duty; association with known offenders; failing to report information; and failing in his supervisory responsibility in using informants.

Rushworth attended a Fourth of July barbecue with McGarrity at McNicholas’ house, and VPD administration said he failed to report his knowledge of the relationship.

Officer Spencer Harris received a six-day unpaid suspension and was ordered to complete remedial classes.

Harris ignored mounting evidence about McGarrity and Rushworth’s forbidden relationship, and did not pass it on to higher-ups, his commander wrote in his disciplinary letter. He also wrote at least one search warrant, based on Rushworth’s information, that later caused a criminal case to be appealed.

Holmes also said that he’s determined to work with the union.

“That means we’ll need to sit down and talk to each other about how to refine (the discipline matrix) and get better understanding of how it should be used,” he said. “It is my hope and expectation that we can continue to constructively work between the chief and the guild to find a way to have a more successful future.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.