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WSU police leaders retire early to avoid discipline following sexual misconduct allegations

Aug. 9, 2022 Updated Tue., Aug. 9, 2022 at 9:57 p.m.

By Nick Gibson For The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – The three top officials with the Washington State University Police Department have resigned following a disciplinary investigation that revealed they failed to advise university officials that an officer allegedly had sex in the presidential suite of Martin Stadium while on duty.

The university said in a news release Tuesday that Police Chief Bill Gardner, Assistant Chief Steve Hansen and Capt. Mike Larsen have announced their intent to retire in lieu of pending disciplinary action, which may have included termination. WSU spokesman Phil Weiler said the findings of the investigation will be included in the officers’ personnel files and will be made available to the agency that certifies law enforcement officers, as well as to future employers.

The command staff failed to notify university officials of a December 2020 internal investigation into the allegations involving WSU Police Sgt. Matt Kuhrt.

The incident was brought to the command staff’s attention by an officer who was contacted by a 911 dispatcher, who asked for advice on how to move forward with reports regarding Kuhrt, according to an investigation report from the university’s human resources services.

The officer notified the command staff of the allegations against Kuhrt, and the command staff launched an internal investigation headed by Larsen. Gardner and Hansen told investigators with the university’s Compliance and Civil Rights department, as well as Human Resource Services, that Kuhrt admitted to having sex while on duty.

Larsen was not able to locate a witness or the person involved with Kuhrt. The department deemed there was not enough evidence to take a personnel action, but Kuhrt was disciplined in the form of a letter of admonishment from Gardner and was banned from working overtime during the summer of 2021.

An officer told investigators that Kuhrt had told them in fall 2021 he had offered to provide the name of the woman involved to the command staff, but that they had said it was not necessary, according to the Human Resources investigation report. Larsen wrote in his report that he could not substantiate the allegations without talking to the other person involved, whose identity he did not have.

Gardner told investigators he believed the allegations were an internal policy violation, thus he did not contact Human Resources or Compliance and Civil Rights, as is required when sexual misconduct allegations are levied against a WSU employee.

Human Resource Services maintains personnel files for all campus employees, including the police department, and Gardner did not provide a copy of the admonishment letter to be included in Kuhrt’s file.

Gardner told investigators he decided on a letter of admonishment for Kuhrt so he could document the issue while continuing to monitor his behavior and fire him if additional issues came up.

The incident and the investigation were brought to the attention of university officials in March by an officer who believed Kuhrt was not properly disciplined. A Human Resources investigation was then launched against the command staff, which concluded with all three members retiring in lieu of discipline.

The Compliance and Civil Rights investigation, which could include Title IX action against Kuhrt given the nature of the allegations, is ongoing. Kuhrt has been on home assignment since March, when the allegations were first brought to the university’s attention.

Although the investigation against Kuhrt is ongoing, preliminary findings obtained through a public records request detail a history of sexual misconduct while on duty directed toward fellow employees at the department, including student interns. Officers interviewed during the investigation indicated Kuhrt had a reputation of engaging in sexual activities around the Pullman campus, including in the presidential suite at Martin Stadium and the WSU Observatory.

Officers told investigators they had concerns about comments Kuhrt made about student interns such as, “Can you have them do that (a calisthenics movement) again?” and “Got any hot interns this year?”

Kuhrt also sent inappropriate pictures to a former employee and used a ring tone associated with a pornography website, according to the investigation documents. None of these incidents were reported to the command staff.

The documents also allege Kuhrt groped a newly hired female employee of the department, who complained to a fellow officer. That officer and the new employee spoke to Gardner about it, but the incident was not documented, nor was the issue disclosed to Compliance and Civil Rights.

The investigation determined that the command staff fostered an environment that discouraged reporting such incidents.

Disciplinary proceedings against Kuhrt are continuing, including a formal hearing conducted in conformity with Title IX, according to the news release.

Retired Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins will serve as interim police chief of the campus police department until a permanent replacement for Gardner is found, according to the WSU news release.

WSU police Sgt. Dawn Daniels, who served as interim chief while the university was conducting its investigation, has been promoted to assistant chief. Victoria Murray will continue to serve as acting associate vice president for public safety, a role formerly held by Gardner.

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