WATERVILLE — Tensions between the East Wenatchee police administration and the officers’ union have grown deeper.
Chief Randy Harrison and Assistant Chief Ray Coble have filed a defamation lawsuit in Douglas County Superior Court against union representative David Simmons and Teamsters Local No. 760.
Recent statements by Simmons on behalf of East Wenatchee police officers have exposed Harrison and Coble to public ridicule and “deprived them of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse or pursuit of gainful and continuing employment,” according to the April 9 lawsuit.
The union is also accused of knowingly making false statements that defamed Harrison and Coble and caused them severe emotional distress.
Simmons on Monday declined to comment because he had not seen the lawsuit.
Harrison and Coble are seeking monetary relief in an amount to be proven at trial from damage caused by claims by the union that Harrison and Coble fostered “an atmosphere of hostility, retaliation, and unethical behavior,” according to the lawsuit.
In January, Simmons told city council members that East Wenatchee officers overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in Harrison and Coble. He said the officers claim chief and assistant chief are ineffective leaders who use unfair disciplinary tactics to control subordinates.
The union took its complaints to the city council only after it felt talks with the administration and Mayor Steve Lacy reached a dead end, a Jan. 22 letter to the council said. Officers attempted to mend problems for two years before making their grievances public, according to the union.
Lacy, while disagreeing with the union, agreed to allow the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs (WASPC) to assess the department. The assessment begins today and is expected to last about 60 days.
When reached for comment Monday, Lacy maintained his belief that the union’s complaints against Harrison and Coble are largely unfounded.
“Now, that doesn’t mean there’s not problems in the police department," Lacy said, "and I’m not saying that when it’s all said and done I won’t lay some of those problems at the feet of the administration — but not what was alleged in (the union’s) letter.”
He said that once WASPC completes its review of the department he’ll make decisions based upon its recommendations. Asked how the lawsuit would affect relationships within the department, Lacy said: "You think they could get any worse?"
Harrison could not be reached to comment.
The union's January letter claimed Harrison and Coble are mostly absent from day-to-day operations, and that officers are afraid to speak out against the chiefs due to fear of retaliation. Department morale was described as being at an all-time low.