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Records reveal allegations that led to firing of Chewelah police chief

Chewelah Police Chief Ryan Pankey in January 2021.  (Brandon Hansen/The Chewelah Independent)
Chewelah Police Chief Ryan Pankey in January 2021. (Brandon Hansen/The Chewelah Independent)

A private investigator substantiated 15 allegations related to work performance against former Chewelah Police Chief Ryan Pankey before the mayor fired him in October, records show.

The city of Chewelah had been silent on the specifics of the allegations beyond vague “misconduct” ever since Pankey was placed on paid administrative leave on May 3.

In a Sept. 23 written response to the findings of the investigation, Pankey claimed the investigator was “very favorable” to the city, and Pankey questioned the credibility of several officers who were interviewed by the investigator.

“This whole investigation has been an attack on me,” Pankey wrote, “and those involved in the administration at city hall have constructed this personal vendetta against me that is fueled by lies and abuse of authority.”

Mayor Gregory McCunn specifically denied this claim in public records obtained by The Spokesman-Review.

“The city conducted a third-party investigation for the express purpose of having an experienced investigator conduct interviews, research policies, procedures and laws, and analyze all available facts to determine whether there had been violations and misconduct on your part,” McCunn wrote in Pankey’s final termination letter Oct. 10.

The third-party investigation, conducted by Dave Helvey of Clear Risk Solutions, concluded on Sept. 2. The findings were presented to Pankey and his attorney at a Sept. 15 disciplinary hearing, and Pankey was given an opportunity to respond in writing.

The allegations ranged from “extremely serious” to “less so,” McCunn wrote in the termination letter.

The seven “most egregious and substantiated allegations,” according to McCunn, are that Pankey failed to respond to a call for service, failed to make a mandatory arrest, mishandled evidence related to a homicide investigation, violated an activity prescription form for an officer who was assigned light duty, reported working more hours than he was in service, issued a conditional offer of employment to a candidate while ignoring concerns expressed by then-mayor Dorothy Knauss and failed to establish a code enforcement process as directed by the mayor.

McCunn wrote that each of these allegations are “in itself justifiable cause for termination.”

“The overall pattern of violations and misconduct leads me to my decision,” McCunn wrote to Pankey. “You have shown no respect for nor willingness to abide by the rules, regulations, standards, and expectations for a law enforcement officer, let alone for the Chief of Police for our city.”

Helvey investigated 16 total allegations against Pankey and found only one to be unsubstantiated: that Pankey allegedly arrived at the scene of a shooting while intoxicated. Since it was unsubstantiated, McCunn noted that this allegation was not part of the basis for his decision to terminate Pankey.

The allegations McCunn considered to be less serious are that Pankey communicated with police department staff during his investigation after being ordered not to, he issued policies that contained references to positions and equipment that do not exist within the police department, he communicated with and treated subordinates in an unprofessional and harassing way, and made derogatory comments about McCunn and City Administrator Jim Caruso, and he attempted to reinstitute a weekend shift that combined night and day shifts, and told the city administrator that the officers were in favor of the shift when they had actually objected.

Furthermore, he allegedly failed to follow the mayor’s directions to get an officer trained in issuing concealed pistol licenses, to direct his officers to become more visible to the public, to improve his relationship with the city council and to keep the front of the police department staffed.

“Together, the substantiated allegations clearly establish a fact pattern of outright disregard for and defiance of authority,” McCunn wrote. In each instance, Pankey also violated Chewelah Civil Service Commission Rules and Regulations, McCunn stated.

Pankey addressed each of the allegations in his 15-page response, acknowledging some of them, but with strong qualifications.

He acknowledged his failure to respond to a call to a domestic dispute in December 2021 after he left work early and was on his way to his home in Deer Park. He asked the dispatcher to call the officer on the next shift. Pankey was placed on probation for this incident, but complained he never received a disciplinary letter. He called including it with the other allegations “double jeopardy.”

Pankey also acknowledged that he did not arrest a man who was violating a protection order in April 2021. Pankey said the protected person invited the man into her home numerous times, and that most officers in the department had responded to the residence on other occasions and did not make an arrest. He added that this was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when the jail did not want bookings unless absolutely necessary. Helvey noted that police officers are legally required to arrest anyone who there is probable cause to believe is violating a protection order.

Pankey said the disciplinary process did not go through proper protocol because he was left in the dark about the allegations while he was under investigation and he never received written reprimands. “This has ruined my credibility, career, retirement, my future, and professional relationships,” Pankey stated, noting his nearly 21 years of service with the department.

Pankey joined the police department in 2000 and was sworn in as chief in January 2021.

“In general,” McCunn concluded, “your conclusion is consistent with my evaluation of your decision-making and conduct during your tenure as Police Chief. You blame everyone else for your violations, misconduct, actions, and failures.”

McCunn said Friday afternoon that the Chewelah Civil Service Commission reviewed the case, and the deadline for Pankey to seek a public appeal has passed.

Sgt. David Watts, chief of the Chewelah Fire Department, is serving as the interim police chief.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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