Downtown police Capt. Brad Arleth has applied to be the next Spokane Police Department chief, but some fear his application will be tainted by an internal investigation that sanctioned him for moving used furniture to a new precinct location.
Arleth was put on paid leave in January after Assistant Chief Craig Meidl filed a complaint alleging Arleth ignored his orders during the December move of the downtown precinct. That precinct moved from the Peyton Building near the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza to the intermodal center, a city-owned bus and train depot on the east edge of downtown.
An internal investigation released in March found Arleth was insubordinate and he was issued a letter of reprimand. The Lieutenants and Captains Association filed a grievance in March over the finding, which has been denied by the city. The grievance will now go to mediation through the Public Employment Relations Commission and could proceed to arbitration if it’s not resolved there.
Arleth confimed Wednesday that he applied for the chief job. He’s been with the department for 24 years and formerly served as a commander of investigations before being demoted to captain under former Chief Frank Straub.
Lt. Dave McCabe, the president of the association, said regardless of the outcome of Arleth’s grievance, the publicity surrounding the situation may hurt Arleth’s chances of becoming chief.
“The damage was done when he was placed on leave over what turned out to be a very minor incident and what we believe an incident that no discipline should have occurred at all,” McCabe said.
Council President Ben Stuckart said he’s begun reviewing about 700 emails he and other council members received after filing a public records request seeking more information on the precinct move. He said it’s clear from the emails there were “contradictory messages” surrounding the precinct move from the time Straub announced his intention to open a new precinct last February.
“A really good policeman got caught up in it and that’s unfortunate because I think he’d make an excellent chief,” Stuckart said, referring to Arleth.
City spokesman Brian Coddington said the insubordination complaint had “nothing to do” with Arleth’s thoughts or comments on the precinct move.
While Coddington acknowledged there were “multiple times where communication had the opportunity to break down” during the precinct move, he said Arleth could have sought clarification on the furniture issue and chose not to.
City administrator Theresa Sanders’ letter denying the grievance made similar points.
Coddington said it would be “inappropriate to comment on any particular applicant” for police chief before the search firm the city has contracted with has reviewed applications.
Arleth was not one of the several dozen officers who saluted former Officer Karl Thompson in a federal courtroom two days after Thompson was convicted in 2011 of using excessive force and lying about the incident. Several police accountability advocates in Spokane, including the Center for Justice, have said involvement in the Thompson salute should disqualify internal candidates for chief without a full apology and explanation for their behavior.
Though Meidl filed the complaint against Arleth, emails and records released with the investigation show Meidl was asked to file a complaint by city administrators. Meidl has said he will not apply for the chief’s position.
They also show Arleth was candid in sharing his concerns about the vacancy that would be created near the STA Plaza when the precinct moved.
Though Arleth said the precinct could function out of any space, he disagreed with Scott Simmons, the director of business and development services, at a Business Improvement District meeting last October. In his internal affairs interview, Arleth said he didn’t agree with Simmons’ comments about the impact of the move.
“I could tell that he was less than impressed by my answer, because I think he was looking for me to agree with him. However, I didn’t agree and I offered my professional observations, and part of that goes to police department credibility,” Arleth said in the interview. He said he suspected Simmons “tattled” to Sanders.
Though the city said new furniture had been installed at the intermodal center, officers working at the new precinct sent a letter to the Spokane Police Guild before the December move raising concerns about the furniture, which they said appeared well-used and was not suited to the space.
“There were desks moved from somewhere within the city to the Intermodal that are not functional for officers, detectives, or the upper brass. Again, no input from the people who will actually be using the desks to see what would be functional,” the letter read.
The desks for the intermodal precinct were originally purchased used in December 2013 from Contract Design Associates Inc., city spokesman Brian Coddington said. An invoice shows the city spent $42,664.75 for 42 used Herman Miller workstations that originally were to be used by the city’s IT department.
With help from subordinates, Arleth moved furniture from the existing precinct to the intermodal center during the last week of December.
Meidl, the assistant chief, initially told Arleth he and his staff could move their existing furniture to the new location in mid-December, but Sanders and asset management director Ed Lukas said they didn’t want the furniture moved, according to emails released in the Internal Affairs investigation.
What happened after that is disputed. Meidl said he emailed Arleth and left him a voicemail clearly saying the furniture shouldn’t be moved. According to a transcript in the report, Meidl told Arleth, “So, as far as the move, the furniture, the packing, all that is carved in stone” and “the direction from City Hall is going to be exactly what’s happening.”
Arleth said in his interview he viewed that as a direction to make the move happen using whatever means necessary and felt the furniture issue wasn’t addressed one way or another.
Emails released this week by the city show Lukas emailed Sanders and former Interim Chief Rick Dobrow on Dec. 30 to tell them the furniture had been moved, “directly contradicting our direction.” He said he wasn’t sure who moved the furniture and that Sgt. Kurt Reese and Lt. Bart Stevens told him it was a “communal decision.”
Dobrow responded saying the issue was being handled internally. “For what it is worth, I am very sorry for the behavior,” he wrote.
McCabe said he believed the complaint against Arleth was overblown because officials at city hall were upset that he spoke candidly about the precinct move.
“I think that they were not happy with Brad for being honest with the Downtown Spokane Partnership as to whether moving the downtown precinct would be a good idea or a bad idea,” McCabe said.
In a letter accompanying the grievance, Arleth said officials mishandled the complaint against him by failing to interview key witnesses at City Hall, admitting irrelevant comments he made about the precinct, and denying a request to have the internal investigation reviewed by an Administrative Review Panel, which is typically done in more serious disciplinary cases.
Heather Lowe, the city’s human resources director, denied the grievance on March 22. It was then sent to Sanders, who denied it on April 11. A meeting between members of the Association’s executive board and a city negotiating committee “didn’t go anywhere,” McCabe said.
Emails released this week in response to a request by The Spokesman-Review offer few details on the furniture move, but show police brass changed course several times on how the new precinct space would be used. Straub originally told City Council members in Feb. 2015 that the new space would be a second downtown precinct.
By June, however, former Assistant Chief Selby Smith sent the city’s construction manager a list of officers who would be relocating to the intermodal center. The list included Arleth and his entire downtown precinct staff.
On Sept. 8, Dobrow abruptly emailed south precinct Capt. Dave Richards and told him the south precinct would be moving to the new intermodal location because the new space wasn’t big enough for the downtown precinct.
“I know this isn’t the best location for a south precinct, but I have every confidence that you will make it work,” Dobrow wrote. That email was widely forwarded to around the department, with some officers expressing surprise at the change.
Following Straub’s ouster, Dobrow told the city’s Public Safety Committee in October he was moving ahead with plans to relocate the downtown precinct. No explanation was given for the change.
“He was a little frustrated or a lot frustrated with the constant changing of who was going to move down there,” McCabe said of Arleth.
Stuckart said he hopes Arleth’s involvement in the precinct move doesn’t hurt his chances for the chief job.
“I hold him in utmost respect, and I’m glad he applied,” Stuckart said.
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