Members of the Edmonds Police Department and the community were recognized during the department’s 18th annual awards ceremony Wednesday night.
Police Chief Al Compaan noted that the event is traditionally held during National Police Week, which honors the 900,000-plus law enforcement officers serving across the U.S. — as well as the 21,000 officers who have been killed in the line of duty since the first recorded death in 1786.
In his remarks, Compaan also asked the audience to keep retired Edmonds Police Officer Bill Nelson in their prayers. Nelson, who came up with the idea for the police awards ceremony 18 years ago, is battling cancer and wasn’t able to attend the event he founded.
Ceremony emcee Sgt. Shane Hawley started off by describing the efforts of several residents whose actions assisted the police department “without regard to personal welfare, or which had a positive bearing on the outcome of an incident and contributed to the furtherance of law enforcement in the community.”
The first recipient of a Citizen Service Citation was Kenneth Barbour, who helped police apprehend a shoplifting suspect at a local store. (Barbour wasn’t able to attend, but his certificate will be mailed to him.)
“For most of us, when we make a routine trip to the grocery store it starts with a shopping list. Milk, bread, eggs and usually some treat that you never expected to come home with, Hawley began. “One thing that usually isn’t on the list at the store is… Tackling a suspect running away from the police.”
Barbour was in the store checkout line at 1 p.m. March 4, 2018 when store security and Edmonds Police Officer Michael Bower tried to stop a shoplifting suspect. “As soon as Officer Bower told the woman that she was under arrest, she took off running,” Hawley explained. “Kenneth saw this go down and didn’t stay on the sidelines. He tackled the woman to the ground and held her there until the Officer Bower caught up to put her in handcuffs.”
The audience even got to see a brief video of incident, with Barbour in action.
“Thanks to his help, we were able to arrest the suspect who ended up pleading guilty to theft and resisting arrest,” Hawley concluded. “If Pete Carroll and the Seahawks are watching, he may have a linebacker job soon.”
The next citizen honoree was Anita Scovill. This incident — dubbed “the Great Bike Caper” — also occurred outside a grocery store, causing Hawley to quip: “Apparently you need to be prepared for crime fighting when you go grocery shopping.”
Scovill spotted a bicycle leaning up against a trash can outside the store. She noted the bike was too expensive to be left outside unsecured, and she also recognized it was the similar to one that she had seen reported as stolen. As she watched, a man came out of the store and rode off on the bike.
She called 911 and flagged down Officer Donald Kinney, who had responded to check on it. She then pointed the man out, who just happened to still be waiting at the bus stop across the street.
“When Officer Kinney contacted the man, he realized the area where the serial number was had been conveniently covered up,” Hawley said. “The man also conveniently forgot his name when asked and gave Officer Kinney someone else’s name. After that was sorted out we ended up taking the bike, which was reported stolen, and charging the man with possession of stolen property.”
The third group of citizens honored included Sarah Brinkley, Josie Jones, Kim Hughes and Lila Param.
While out for a walk with her dog in October 2018, Josie Jones heard crackling sounds coming from the Carmel Condos in downtown Edmonds. “She realized there was a fire and jumped into action,” Hawley said. “She found a unit that was on fire and started helping get the resident out of the smoke-filled room.”
Two other people also assisted in ensuring the residents of the condos were evacuated, Hawley said. Kim Hughes and Lila Param, herself a condo resident, checked all the units to make sure everyone had exited safely. “Kim went so far as even giving up her shoes to someone that had to leave quickly and didn’t have shoes,” Hawley said.
Then Sarah Brinkley, the lead custodian for the City of Edmonds, realized that people would need a place to go for a while until fire crews ensured it was OK to return. “She unlocked the city buildings nearby and got everyone to a warm, safe environment,” Hawley said.
After the fire was put out, Lila Param opened up her condo unit to fire officials and it became a base of operations for them while securing the scene.
“Because of their willingness to get involved, these women helped prevent what could have been more tragic circumstances and lent support to those who needed it,” Hawley said.
Turning to police employee recognitions, Hawley started off with two mentions: The first was to bring attention to the efforts of officers who are carrying Narcan to assist those who have overdosed on opioids. “To date, we have recorded eight lives saved due to our officers using it in the field,” Hawley said. “Because of their efforts, that’s eight families that did not have to endure the loss of a loved one.”
The department also recognized Officer Jason Robinson for his assistance to the City of Lynnwood as a crisis negotiator with an armed, suicidal man in a hotel parking lot. “The man was sitting in his car and had a handgun held to his chest. For three hours, Officer Robinson helped negotiate with the man and also talked with his family members,” Hawley said.
Next came Letter of Commendation awards to department officers who performed particularly noteworthy acts of service.
Sgt. Ken Ploeger and Officer Brian McIntyre were recognized for their work during an incident in July 2018, when the dispatch center received a call from a distraught husband whose wife had sent him text messages and pictures, indicating she had already committed suicide.
Ploeger and McIntyre responded to the woman’s address, where they found the woman inside a car in the driveway, bleeding badly from a self-inflicted wound to her neck. They began first aid, applying pressure to the wound, but the woman reached for a knife that was on the front passenger seat.
“Officer McIntyre was able to secure the weapon and stop her movements. They held her there until aid crews arrived to deliver advanced medical care,” Hawley said. “Both officers put themselves in danger to help someone that was unable and unwilling to help herself.”
Officer Tyler Steffins, one of the department’s newest officers, also received a letter of commendation stemming from an incident he was involved with before he even went to the police academy.
Steffins was out on a ride-a-long with Officer Samuel Gagner, being shown what a typical patrol day will look like for him, Hawley explained. While responding to a shoplifting call, Gagner found the suspect and his girlfriend leaving the area on foot, and detained them. The suspect — who was 6’3″ and about 230 lbs. — turned on Gagner, and the girlfriend also attempted to get into the fray, Hawley said. “Officer Steffins kept her at bay and then jumped into the struggle with the suspect, who had been fighting for some time already. Thanks to Officer Steffins stepping in, they were able to get the suspect into custody.”
Detective Andy Mehl was honored for his work as the department’s Crimes Against Persons detective. Hawley noted that 2018 was a very busy year for Mehl, who took the lead on serious assault cases and homicide investigations.
Mehl’s cases in 2018 included a Jan. 6 homicide investigation in north Edmonds, when a 27-year old man was shot inside a residence. “The crowd that we encountered there was less than cooperative,” Hawley said. ‘Detective Mehl was the lead investigator for this investigation. Through interviews, he was able to come up with a location where the suspect was hiding and he was quickly arrested. The investigation was so thorough and well done, the suspect pled guilty to murder within a month of his arrest.”
The city’s second homicide investigation — on Nov. 30, 2018 — involved a teenage girl who was shot by an acquaintance at her apartment. The male suspect fled the scene, but through tips, he was located hiding out with a friend. “Detective Mehl was there to help take him into custody and interview him,” Hawley said, adding the suspect was booked and ultimately will stand trial as an adult.
Two weeks later, Mehl had yet another homicide investigation on his hands. On Dec. 14, a large party ended with a shooting that left one man dead outside the Edmonds Senior Center. At least 100 people were at the party, but no witnesses came forward.
In addition to this work, Mehl also serves as the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team that investigates officer-involved shootings or in-custody deaths. And, Hawley noted that in 2018, Mehl “was called out for 18 other serious investigations and still had to work his other assigned cases. To say that Detective Mehl was busy in 2018 is an understatement.”
Several other officers were honored for their work in connection with the Edmonds Senior Center homicide: Sgt. Ken Ploeger, Corporal Earl Yamane, and Officers Samuel Gagner, Dietrich Borst and Josh Hwang
On Dec. 14, Yamane and Gagner were sitting down the street from the Edmonds Senior Center after “checking on a very large party that we had received calls about,” Hawley said. “At 11:45 p.m., they heard several gunshots come from the senior center and three subjects ran from the parking lot toward Officer Gagner’s car,” Hawley said. They jumped in a car and fled, and Gagner pursued the vehicle onto Edmonds Way all the way to 100th Avenue West. The two men finally stopped and were detained with the assistance of other officers, including Officer Hwang.
“Corporal Yamane responded into the Senior Center right after the shooting and along with Sgt. Ploeger, they took control of the area and started dealing with the crowd of over 100 that frantically wanted to leave,” Hawley said. “Officer Borst arrived and began providing first aid to the shooting victim.”
After helping with the end of the pursuit, Officer Hwang — also an Edmonds K9 officer — and his partner Ace worked to locate evidence that may have been discarded during the pursuit.
Hawley noted that the senior center shooting involved a total of 20 Edmonds officers, plus more than 35 law enforcement officers from throughout Snohomish County and six State Troopers. “While everyone that responded played a role, these five officers were selected because of the key role they played in the initial stages of an in-progress homicide,” Hawley said.
The next award, for Non-Commissioned Employee of the Year, went to Domestic Violence Coordinator Jill Schick. This employee is nominated by fellow department employees and is reflective of the recipient’s significant achievement and dedication.
The award was presented in partnership with the Edmonds-based American Legion Post 66, and Commander Les Abel and Adjutant Commander Dan Mullene assisted with the honor.
Hawley noted that Schick has been the domestic violence coordinator for both the Edmonds and Mill Creek Police Departments for the past five years. “This means she has had to provide domestic violence services to victims in two cities, which are 10 miles apart, work out of two different buildings, two different court systems, deal with different prosecutors and two complete sets of patrol officers, all in 20 hours a work,” Hawley said. “In just 14 hours per week, she is efficient enough with her time to review and reach out to those involved in over 500 domestic violence cases each year.”
Schick contacts each domestic violence victim on cases that have been charged, working with victims to review the case, explain the judicial process, discuss safety plans and offer resources. “She has to walk a fine line between advocacy for the victim and her role in assisting with the prosecution of domestic violence cases,” Hawley said.
Schick also works to educate domestic violence victims and their families about what to expect with the judicial system, and she also educates future mental health professionals, Hawley said. “Because of her education and experience, Jill is requested to come in and speak to college students that are majoring in social work and psychology,” he said.
At the end of 2018, Schick received her credentials from the National Advocate Credentialing Program and was recognized as an Advanced Advocate, specializing in domestic violence and sexual assault intervention — the highest level of certification in the organization.
“We frequently hear from victims and their families about how appreciative of her work with them and her level of professionalism,” Hawley said. “We are certainly appreciative of her work as well.”
The final award of the evening was to Officer Sierra Swartz, who was selected as the Chief David N. Stern Memorial Officer of the Year.
Swartz was nominated by fellow department employees and then selected by previous recipients of the award, and reflects her significant achievements and dedication.
In a first for the awards program, the honor was presented live to Swartz via Skype, as she was out of town attending mandatory training.
Swartz has been a member of the department’s traffic unit since August 2017. “She has made quite an impression with the motoring public during that time,” Hawley said. “Especially those who feel it is acceptable to drink and drive.”
Since starting in the traffic unit, Swartz has arrested over 103 impaired drivers. “That’s 103 people off the road that didn’t get the chance to crash into someone and hurt them, or worse, kill them,” Hawley said.
Swartz has earned her certification as a Drug Recognition Expert, which helps her identify drivers who are impaired by illegal or prescription drugs and should not be driving. “This is a challenging course that requires recertification,” Hawley noted. “That’s why she is not here tonight with us. She is at her recertification course in Wenatchee.
While Swartz’s work arresting DUI drivers alone is probably enough to recognize her as the officer of the year, she has also been active as a leader and mentor, Hawley said. She is a Field Training Officer who has trained several student officers over the past year.
“DUI arrests are complicated and can be overwhelming for new officers. Swartz, through her training, has managed to demystify the DUI arrest and light a fire in our newest officers to take as many of them (DUIs) off the road as possible,” Hawley said. “In talking to new officers that she has trained, you can hear their level of excitement when they talk to you about the last DUI arrest they made and how they need to keep a constant eye out for them. She has clearly influenced the next generation of officers through her training and tenacity.”
Swartz was also recently recognized as the Drug Recognition Expert of the Year in Snohomish County for 2018.
“Based on her tireless work, taking dangerous drivers off the road and her leadership and training of our new officers, the Edmonds Police Department is proud to name Officer Sierra Swartz as Police Officer of the Year,” Hawley said.
The Officer of the Year award was presented in partnership with the American Legion Post 66 and the Edmonds Noontime Rotary Club, where late Edmonds Police Chief David Stern was a member. Also helping to present the award were Rotary Club members Doug Purcell and Amie Armstrong.
The Police Officer of the Year award was renamed in 2008 as the Chief David N. Stern Memorial Officer of the Year Award to reflect the level of professional service provided by Chief Stern to the Edmonds Police Department. Chief Stern passed away on April 25, 2007.
At the end of the ceremony, bugler and former Edmonds police employee Debbie Dawson played Taps, followed by a moment of silence in honor of fallen law enforcement officers.
— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel