REPUBLIC, Wash. – A Washington State Patrol trooper who used his police computer to download pornography now is under criminal investigation for alleged evidence tampering involving a video recorder in his patrol car.
Detectives searched Trooper Rob Young’s Republic-area home last week and seized personal video-recording equipment Young is suspected of using to alter tapes from his patrol-car camera.
Tampering with such a tape is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.
Investigators say, without elaboration, that an unidentified woman’s voice can be heard inside Young’s patrol car in one of the allegedly altered tapes.
The investigation apparently began with allegations that Young, 40, stalked and harassed a 21-year-old Republic woman. Officials have declined to release details of the allegations.
A 13-year WSP veteran, Young has been on paid leave since Oct. 24. Efforts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.
Ferry County Prosecutor James von Sauer declined to prosecute Young over the alleged stalking, harassment and official misconduct. The woman told The Spokesman-Review that Young made improper sexual remarks to her and other young women, but she declined to elaborate.
“There just wasn’t any evidence of criminal wrongdoing,” von Sauer said, citing a WSP investigative report he received earlier this year. “There wasn’t any real stalking that I could see, and there apparently was no harassment.”
The evidence pointed more toward a violation of State Patrol policy, according to von Sauer. He declined to release his file on the alleged harassment because other aspects of the case remain under investigation.
Von Sauer has frequent contact with Young. Also, Young’s wife, Cindy Young, is the lead corrections officer – second in command – at the Ferry County Jail. Because of the appearance of conflict, the prosecutor said he asked the State Patrol to get a second opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office.
“I was advised that our opinions were identical on it,” von Sauer said. “I think they just wanted my stamp of approval, for what that’s worth.”
Capt. Fred Fakkema, the patrol’s statewide spokesman, said any administrative review of Young’s conduct will have to wait until the criminal investigation is completed. He said von Sauer will receive another report soon dealing with the evidence seized Tuesday at Young’s home.
Once all criminal issues are resolved, a separate investigation will be conducted to determine whether Young violated any WSP policies, Fakkema said.
In January, Young gave up a day of vacation to settle internal-affairs charges that he used his state-issued laptop computer to download pornography from the Internet. WSP technicians found “sexually explicit” pictures on the computer when Young submitted it for repairs. The images remained on the hard drive despite having been deleted.
Technicians found other evidence that Young had visited a number of pornographic Web sites, including text suggesting Young called himself “Muleskinner” to log on to a site known as Teen-Mail4Free. The site offered “Hardcore XXX Bondage” in one recovered text fragment.
Public records say Young admitted using his WSP computer to download pornography as well as his personal e-mail after his home computer broke. Any private use of the state computer was prohibited.
An affidavit for the warrant to search Young’s home last week says two WSP videotapes from Young’s car appear to have been altered.
One of those tapes – for May 19 to Sept. 2, 2003 – covered the period of the alleged misconduct that prompted the investigation, Detective Sgt. Ken Wade told a Superior Court judge. That tape had been missing, but Wade said he found it in the trunk of Young’s patrol car when he summoned Young for questioning on Dec. 19.
The tape was supposed to have been turned over to the department’s public disclosure officer in Spokane as soon as it was full.
Young exercised his constitutional right not to answer Wade’s questions. In any administrative investigation after criminal issues are resolved, Young can be fired if he refuses to answer questions.
Wade told the judge he reviewed the previously missing videotape and three other numbered tapes issued to Young last year, and found that Young turned his microphone off and on during several traffic stops. Young also sometimes failed to tell suspects the stops were being recorded, according to Wade.
Young turned the microphone on and off during 15 of 102 recorded contacts, and there was no audio at all in 26 other cases, Wade stated.
Failure to disclose the recordings and turning off the sound are specifically prohibited by a relatively new law that also prohibits editing or erasing the tapes.
The tape found in Young’s car was turned over to a video forensics expert who determined there appeared to be “a number of attempts to erase previously recorded content.” In fact, the expert said, one entire section that was supposed to have been recorded on June 21 actually appeared to have been recorded later and inserted in that spot.
Armed with information from the expert, Wade re-examined the videotape for Jan. 10 through March 14 last year and found what he said was another apparent alteration.
Wade said the numerical counter on the tape moved backward just before a March 6, 2003, stop of a Ford Probe. At the end of the recording of that traffic stop, “you can hear an unidentified female voice coming from within Young’s patrol car,” Wade stated without elaboration.
In his request for a warrant to search Young’s home, Wade said forensic technicians may be able to match marks on the altered tapes with the home video recorders believed to have been used in the tampering.
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