Last week, after the Edmonds City Council moved up the decision date for selecting a new police chief, I promised that we would look into the process that Mayor Mike Nelson’s administration followed in the police chief selection. We have continued to do that work for the past week, and are publishing what we have learned so far because the process matters, especially since the mayor has announced the city will launch a new national search for a chief early next year. — Teresa Wippel, Publisher
Sherman Pruitt, whom the Edmonds City Council one week ago confirmed as the city’s new police chief, was terminated from his first law enforcement job in 2004. Our investigation also produced other documents on a harassment allegation, and Pruitt testified in federal court that he was investigated for domestic violence against his two wives in a span that goes back two decades.
My Edmonds News has also learned that city councilmembers, the mayor and the human resources director were provided with documents regarding the allegations of domestic violence before the 4-3 vote to hire him took place Dec. 8.
While a move to discuss Pruitt’s background was quashed during that meeting, Mayor Mike Nelson announced Tuesday that his preferred candidate would not become chief because he had “omitted relevant details from his application.” The city will conduct a new search for the next police chief.
In 2004, Pruitt applied to be a Seattle police officer. In July 2004, the department wrote to Pruitt, congratulating him on passing his physical exam, adding: “We would like to extend you a Final Offer of Employment as a police recruit.” Three months later, SPD terminated Pruitt from the force.
My Edmonds News has obtained documents confirming Pruitt’s hiring and termination. When Seattle hired him, the department assigned Pruitt to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Center rookie class in Spokane. Class began in July 2004.
Just two months into his academy training and while still a probationary recruit, Pruitt was investigated by police in DuPont (Pierce County) for a harassment incident at a local restaurant. Pruitt’s wife, Melody, worked at Farrelli’s restaurant, and had a confrontation with a manager and either left work or was sent home, a police report said.
Witnesses told police that Sherman Pruitt then went to Farrelli’s and confronted the manager.
The manager told the officer who responded that Pruitt said “he was going to kick his ass, to go outside and take care of it right now. Yeah, I got your ass; wait ‘til you come to Seattle.”
The manager said “that he (Sherman) has mentioned in the past that he was going to be a Seattle cop and had no problem saying it,” according to the police report.
In the incident report, Pruitt told the investigating officer that “he did not make any threats like he was accused of.” The officer said Pruitt told him “he was in the (Police) Academy to be a Seattle cop and did not want to ruin that.”
DuPont police warned Pruitt but did not file charges.
One month later, the Seattle Police Department terminated Pruitt for “Failure to successfully complete Probationary Period” with no further explanation.
Pruitt declined to comment when questioned by My Edmonds News, saying, “I’m sorry, I’d rather not talk about anything right now.”
Asked about his time with the Seattle Police Department, Pruitt replied, “I don’t want to discuss anything” and hung up the phone.
What did the City of Edmonds know?
Prior to a Nov. 12 recruiting interview with Pruitt, all members of the city council received a city job employment information packet with Pruitt’s personal and professional background. We have learned that there was nothing in that packet regarding his time with Seattle police. There was also no information about domestic violence incidents involving Pruitt that were previously reported in testimony in a federal civil rights lawsuit he and his wife filed against the city of Arlington.
In that 2009 federal trial, attorneys for Arlington asked: “Now, Mr. Pruitt, you’ve been the subject of a domestic violence investigation involving your wife, isn’t that true?”
Pruitt answered: “Yes,” court records show.
A warrant was issued for his arrest in that case, he testified. When asked if he was also the subject of another domestic violence investigation involving his first wife when the couple lived in Oceanside, Calif., Pruitt testified that “we had some verbal arguments but not a domestic violence investigation, no.”
Pruitt was serving in the Marine Corps at the time. Following those arguments, his wife secured a “military protective order” to keep him away from her, he testified in the 2009 trial. His commander then ordered Pruitt to attend a 16-week men’s program because of his wife’s allegations.
None of those issues from the testimony in that federal civil rights trial were provided in the November background packet to Edmonds city councilmembers.
When Councilmember Vivian Olson brought them up during the Dec. 8 council meeting during which Pruitt was confirmed on a 4-3 vote, Edmonds Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson said she did not think it was an appropriate subject for a public meeting.
When City Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas asked if Pruitt had been convicted of domestic violence, Hoyson said the city’s background check revealed no criminal convictions.
Edmonds police officer qualifications
According to the Edmonds police webpage profile on the national police career search qualifications website, any domestic violence incident, not just a conviction, is an “automatic disqualifier” for any officer seeking a “lateral” move (in this case, chief-to-chief). “Applicants should not apply to our agency (Edmonds police) if they indicate any of the automatic disqualifiers,” the Edmonds webpage notes. Edmonds police say that means “admission of any act of domestic violence as defined by law, committed as an adult.”
During the December 8 meeting, when Olson questioned whether the background investigation had been thorough enough, Mayor Nelson replied: “I’m not going to have this be questioning the abilities of my human resources director.”
A motion was made to discuss the issue in executive session and not in public; Councilmembers voted it down.
My Edmonds News has learned that on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 6, a 60-page copy of Pruitt’s federal testimony was emailed to all councilmembers, Mayor Nelson and Human Resources Director Neill Hoyson. That was two days before the confirmation vote.
The mayor’s spokesperson, Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty, said Tuesday afternoon the mayor wouldn’t be available for an interview to answer followup questions on what details Pruitt omitted from his application materials, adding Nelson “considers this a private, legal employment matter and can’t offer any more comment.”
Edmonds resident Alicia Crank, who was a member of the community panel that interviewed Pruitt, said she was “glad some resolution has come with the immediate issue,” but added she felt that the mayor’s statement “was slightly backhanded. Our police department, while not perfect, has been a positive example among other departments in the state.”
“I hope a positive behavioral shift in our city leadership will be transparent, in hopes of being able to attract great candidates for the chief’s role,” Crank said. “In the interim, I hope Acting Chief (Jim) Lawless will stay on board and help navigate the department and this process.”
Lawless, an Edmonds Police Department veteran, was the other finalist — along with Pruitt — for the chief’s job. We were unable to reach Lawless to confirm his future plans.
— By Bob Throndsen