911 call before couple died is detailed

Guild says deputy had reason to dismiss case; his sergeants disagree

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

Published:

 

The Clark County sheriff’s deputy fired for failing to respond to a 911 hang-up call violated three of the agency’s policies when he canceled the call, minutes before attending a pre-arranged lunch, according to an internal investigation report.

Three days later, deputies found a couple dead from an apparent murder-suicide in the same Fargher Lake-area home where the call originated.

Ed Bylsma was fired Sept. 9 after an internal investigation concluded he failed to perform the basic duties of a deputy, failed to perform his duties in a competent manner and failed to promptly respond to calls in a timely manner. His termination has been challenged by the Clark County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild.

The Columbian attained a final report summarizing the agency’s internal affairs investigation into the matter through a public records request. The document outlines the incident as follows:

When dispatchers first received a hang-up call from 38302 N.E. Mint View Road minutes before noon on March 28, they called back and spoke with a man at the residence. When the dispatcher asked if everything was OK, the man said his wife had accidentally called 911. Upon further questioning, which included the dispatcher asking to speak to his wife, the man answered as if he didn’t understand and hung up.

The interaction was odd enough that the dispatcher coded the call as a higher priority — a welfare check — and the call was assigned to Deputy Ed Byslma. In the call’s notes, which Bylsma sees on his patrol car’s computer, the dispatcher sent Bylsma a note saying, “at your discretion.”

Bylsma was driving north on state Highway 503 on his way to a lunch date when he was dispatched to the call. He told the internal affairs investigator he skimmed the information on his computer and asked the dispatcher over the radio if there was any prior police contact at the address and learned there wasn’t. Bylsma called the residence twice, both calls lasting one minute or less. A few minutes later, Bylsma canceled the call — giving it the code Q4, meaning the call was “information only.”

Bylsma did not physically go to the residence and did not get his supervisor’s approval prior to canceling the call.

At the house

Three days later, on March 31, the son of Fay Allen called 911 because he was concerned he hadn’t hear from her in several days. He drove to the house, knocked on the door and got no answer.

Deputy Bylsma was assigned to the call and when he arrived, he “immediately remembered the address and he then pulled up the premise history from that call, and that’s when he saw the other details (about the hang up on dispatch) in the call.”

Bylsma requested assistance from his sergeant on duty, Sgt. Craig Randall, and another deputy.

Inside the house, they found the bodies of Fay Allen and Milton “Wayne” Allen. Investigators and an autopsy found evidence that Wayne Allen shot Fay Allen before shooting himself.

Randall told the internal affairs investigators that he had made it clear that the standard practice is for patrol deputies to get approval from a sergeant before cancelling a call.

While interviewing Bylsma, investigators asked him why he canceled the call. He answered that he learned the call was accidental and said, “Well, I guess they don’t need any help, and I’ll be 10-8 (back in service).” He said he didn’t remember pushing the button to cancel the call.

Minutes later, he arrived at Ichi Teriyaki in Battle Ground, where he had lunch with his girlfriend and fellow deputy Doug Paulson.

Red flags

Sgt. Linda Hayes, who spoke with Bylsma when he returned to the precinct after the murder-suicide was discovered, told investigators that the lack of police calls to the address (premise history) should have been a red flag. Randall said that the person’s hanging up on a dispatcher alone should have been a red flag.

During his interview with investigators, “Bylsma said he felt remorse for his actions (or lack thereof) pertaining to this call. Bylsma stated, ‘I feel bad still today … that something bad happened.’ “

Sgt. Fred Neiman said there is not a written policy that deals specifically with deputies canceling calls, however, other policies deal with the expectations of law enforcement.

Mark Makler, general counsel on behalf of the Clark County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild, said that the lack of policy makes the expectation one that varies depending on which sergeant and commander you work for.

“It’s a moving target,” he said.

The guild has challenged the termination, claiming that based on its own investigation, Bylsma did not violate his responsibilities as a law enforcement officer.

A ‘model’ deputy

Bylsma has 24 years of law enforcement experience and has been a “model” deputy for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office since 1995, according to the guild.

Guild President Bob Mullikin said the termination was too harsh, lacked just cause and violated the bargaining agreement between the guild and the sheriff’s office.

The guild filed a grievance asking that Bylsma be returned to duty immediately.

In a press release issued this year, the guild said that a deputy has limited resources and a large volume of 911 calls and so must use professional judgement and discretion to decide whether to physically respond or not.

The guild also states that because there is no written and standardized policy on how “information only” calls are handled, process and procedure on the matter vary.

“We believe Deputy Bylsma did not have all the pertinent details, and based on the information he was given, the March 28 call was like countless other false and incomplete calls,” the guild said in a statement.

The grievance has been set for arbitration but no date has been set yet, according to Neiman.