August 30, 2008 in City

Medical Lake let top cop serve after allegation

Civilian employee accuses interim chief of sexual misconduct
By The Spokesman-Review

City officials allowed Sgt. Joe Mehrens to remain Medical Lake’s interim police chief for nearly four months after he came under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct against one of the department’s employees.

Mehrens denied touching a co-worker’s breast at work while wiping juice off her shirt, officials said Friday.

Only after that civilian employee filed a criminal complaint with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office was Mehrens removed as interim chief, according to the Medical Lake city administrator’s timeline. And Mehrens remained working as a law enforcement officer until the woman filed a restraining order against the sergeant Aug. 21.

The Sheriff’s Office forwarded its investigation to a prosecutor to make a decision, but a detective has recommended Mehrens be charged with fourth-degree assault with sexual motivations, a gross misdemeanor, said Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dave Reagan.

Doug Ross, Medical Lake’s city administrator, refused to comment on the length of time it took the city to tell the public about the investigation or remove the sergeant.

The employee’s initial complaint was made April 18, Ross said in a news release. The incident allegedly occurred in January.

“The city administrator commenced an internal investigation in which he interviewed the employee and Sgt. Mehrens,” Ross stated. “The employee claimed that the incident happened; Sgt. Mehrens denied it. There were no other eyewitnesses.”

The city’s mayor, John Higgins, determined Mehrens was guilty of violating personal boundaries but not misconduct.

Mehrens was disciplined, but officials would not say how. The sergeant remained interim chief.

“The employee later claimed that Sgt. Mehrens had retaliated against her in written and verbal communications” after he was disciplined, Ross said in the release. Again, the city determined there was no wrongdoing. However, to minimize unsupervised contact between Mehrens and the employee, the sergeant’s desk was moved.

The woman filed a criminal complaint in early August.

Mehrens is on paid administrative leave pending a hearing on the restraining order scheduled for Friday, Ross said.

Mehrens has worked at the Police Department for 12 years. He was the interim chief from Jan. 9 until Aug. 3 of this year.

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