CENTRALIA — Tenino Mayor Eric Strawn will not face a charge of indecent exposure after he was accused of having sexual contact with a woman inside a city vehicle last week, according to an attorney for the city of Lacey.
On Monday, police responded to a report of a man and a woman inside a Tenino police vehicle near Ruddell Road in Lacey.
Officers found Strawn with a woman inside a black and white 2004 GMC Envoy, a former police vehicle in the process of being decommissioned.
Tenino Police Chief John Hutchings said Strawn asked for the keys to the vehicle Friday and said he would remove the lettering on it using a heat gun in order to save the city money.
"I have the authorization to allow a nonmember of the police department to drive one of our vehicles," Hutchings said. "But I work for the mayor — he doesn't work for me. So as the mayor, he has the right to take the city vehicle."
Strawn said he was using the vehicle for city business. He said he met up with a friend and they shared an "affectionate kiss" inside the car.
The name of the woman who accompanied Strawn in the city vehicle were redacted from the police report.
According to six witness statements included in the 43-page police report detailing the incident, Strawn and his companion were parked in front of Health Wiz Fitness, a Christian-based gym. Witness accounts of the details of the encounter varied.
Some witnesses said they were "repulsed, alarmed and annoyed" by the public behavior.
But Strawn, who denies the allegations, said the statements from the witnesses are full of inconsistencies.
He said what they believe happened is a matter of perception. He also pointed to inconsistencies among the testimonies and inaccurate descriptions of his own physical appearance; for example, he said he was wearing a plaid — "not checkered" — shirt, despite what a witness said.
"I feel vindicated," Strawn said. "I feel good. I'm not over here doing high fives, but I'm relieved. People can say what they want to say, but I can say I didn't break the law."
However, Tenino residents are calling the incident, which has been picked up by multiple media outlets, another black mark on the city's reputation.
Hutchings, who took over after the former police chief resigned when an investigation revealed he had lied about cheating on his wife, who had committed suicide, said this most recent incident is "absolutely" a concern for the reputation of the police department.
"It's embarrassing at the least and distracting at the least," he said.
When he won in the November election, Strawn, a political newcomer, said he would bring about positive change in his home town.
Although he had widespread support among citizens, Strawn has faced challenges from the beginning.
Before Strawn was even sworn into office, the council, led by its former mayor, passed an ordinance that stripped the mayor of some of his powers. Soon after Strawn began his term, members of the city staff installed a gate inside City Hall to block him from accessing records.
But it's not only Strawn who has stood in the spotlight.
Most recently, the Tenino Recall Committee formed to try to recall councilor Frank Anderson, who owes the city more than $140,000 in property code violations and unpaid water and sewer bills.
The goings-on in Tenino have even attracted attention from a New York production company, who is expected to return soon to the area to film a reality TV show about the city.