Vancouver police officer pleads guilty to obstruction charges

Detective must serve 2 years' bench probation in Washougal incident

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A Vancouver police officer was sentenced Thursday in Camas-Washougal Municipal Court to 10 days of community service and a fine of $746 for obstructing Washougal police officers who were investigating him in November for suspected drunken driving.

Jeremy Free, 40, of Washougal also will be required to serve two years of bench probation.

He pleaded guilty Thursday in front of Judge John Hagensen to two counts of gross misdemeanor obstructing law enforcement. As part of a plea deal with Free, Washougal City Attorney Scott Russon dismissed a charge of first-degree negligent driving and a traffic citation for failure to stop at a stop sign.

Free entered an Alford plea, a legal maneuver in which he did not admit guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence for a jury to convict him.

"He thought he had a right to do exactly what he did," said Jon McMullen, Free's attorney. "The Washougal Police Department felt they were doing the right thing."

Free's conviction will trigger an internal administrative review by the Vancouver Police Department to determine the future of his employment, said department spokeswoman Kim Kapp.

Free was placed on paid administrative leave from his $75,676-per-year police job shortly after his Nov. 27 arrest on the charges. He returned to work in January but was not allowed to continue in his position as a detective in the missing persons unit, Kapp said. Instead, he was assigned to administrative duties at the department's West Precinct.

According to Washougal police:

Washougal police Cpl. Troy Martin stopped Free Nov. 24 after Free failed to stop his vehicle at a stop sign in the 5400 block of N Street. Martin asked Free for his driver's license. Free rolled down his window a half-inch and slid his license and his police badge out the window. Martin thought he smelled the odor of alcohol in the vehicle and asked Free to step out of his vehicle. Free denied he was drinking alcohol, refused to leave the vehicle and rolled up the window.

Inside the vehicle with Free were his wife and two children. His wife stepped out of the vehicle and allowed officers to perform sobriety tests on her, all of which she passed. While Free continued to refuse to leave the vehicle, he slid over into the passenger's seat and allowed his wife to drive them away from the scene.

Washougal police thought Free and his wife may have been recording the traffic stop on their cellphones and later obtained a search warrant to search the phones. On Nov. 27 officers tried to execute the search warrant at the Frees' home, but Free wouldn't open the door for about 45 minutes. During that time, he called 911 dispatchers to confirm Washougal police were at his home and communicated with officers. He apparently was arguing with them about their search-and-seizure tactics, McMullen said.

"The problem was this (professional debate) was happening on the scene," McMullen said. "Those are supposed to be debated in a court of law, not on the scene. I think there was some professional ego involved. I don't think Washougal PD was happy to be told how to do their jobs."

Hagensen said that Free has a "sophisticated knowledge of what one's rights are that someone who is not a police officer might not have," and it appeared that he was trying to exercise those rights.

Free declined Thursday to comment on the criminal case.

Free has been on the Vancouver police force since 2003. In 2012, the Vancouver Police Officers' Guild selected him as Officer of the Year, an honor bestowed by a vote of the guild's 170 members, said Vancouver police Sgt. Jeff Kipp, guild president.