Probe finds no evidence against Woodland detective

He's been on administrative leave amid theft allegations

By Justin Runquist, Columbian small cities reporter

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As a Woodland Police detective on administrative leave prepares to sue the city, state investigators say there's no evidence to support the theft allegations keeping him off the job.

Detective David Plaza was placed on administrative leave several months ago on accusations that he'd stolen a Nikon digital camera from the department. Shortly after, Plaza filed a tort claim, announcing his plans to sue the city for upwards of $2 million and making numerous claims of misconduct against former Interim Chief Brad Gillaspie.

On Tuesday, Plaza's attorneys, Greg Ferguson and Jack Green of Vancouver, sent The Columbian a letter from the state Attorney General's office, which states that a Washington State Patrol investigation into the allegations against Plaza yielded no evidence of a crime. The letter came from Assistant Attorney General Bill Sherman, and it was addressed to Cowlitz County Prosecutor Sue Baur.

Sherman also wrote that he couldn't comment on whether Plaza should face any internal discipline for his actions leading up to the allegations.

The camera was issued to Plaza at a digital photography training session in March. When a colleague questioned Plaza later about whether he received the camera and if he was putting it to personal use, the detective was evasive in his answers, leading some to think he was trying to steal it, Sherman concluded.

Plaza filed the tort claim this spring, arguing that he was taken off the job in retaliation for reporting allegations against Gillaspie to Mayor Grover Laseke. The accusations range from using racial slurs against Plaza — who is of Filipino, Italian and Mexican ancestry — to engaging in a pattern of invasions of privacy and sexual harassment toward young females.

Gillaspie commissioned the state to investigate Plaza after getting word from Sgt. Robb Lipp that Plaza planned to keep the camera for his personal use. Soon after Plaza filed the tort claim, the department put Gillaspie back in his previous role as a sergeant and hired former Cowlitz County Sheriff Bill Mahoney to take over as the new interim chief.

About a month ago, Plaza's attorneys took their legal battle a step further, filing a public records lawsuit against the police department, seeking the release of alleged misconduct records and complaints against Gillaspie. Depositions in that case are scheduled to begin this month, they said.