A My Edmonds News investigation has found that as early as mid-November, the city’s human resources director was told about a history of job and domestic concerns in former police chief candidate Sherman Pruitt’s background. The director was told of the information at least two weeks before Mayor Mike Nelson nominated Pruitt.
This is the timeline in the weeks that led up to the police chief vote:
- Mid-November: Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson is informed about career and domestic violence concerns in Pruitt’s past.
- Dec. 3: Mayor Nelson nominates Pruitt.
- Dec. 3: Councilmember Vivian Olson calls the HR Director with questions about domestic violence issues she had become aware of in Pruitt’s past.
- Dec. 4-5: two city councilmembers now say the administration gave them a ‘heads up’ on the domestic violence issues but assured them there was nothing to delay confirmation.
- Dec. 4: Olson orders her own copy of the documents.
- Dec. 6: Olson receives documents; emails copies to the HR Director, the mayor and all council members.
- Dec. 6: Two other councilmembers now say when they got that packet, it was the first time they knew about any potential issues in the Pruitt nomination.
- Dec. 7: Then-Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and the mayor announce they have changed the confirmation vote for the chief from Dec. 15 to the next day, Dec. 8.
- Dec. 8: The council, in a 4-3 vote, confirms Pruitt as Edmonds Police Chief.
- Dec. 15: Mayor Nelson writes Pruitt, rescinding the job offer.
- Dec. 15: My Edmonds News reports Seattle police fired Pruitt in 2004 while he was still in training.
A source who has in-depth knowledge of the circumstances and asked not to be identified, said Neill Hoyson was told that Pruitt had sued the City of Arlington; that he had also been terminated as a Seattle cop, and that she should talk to the Tulalip Tribal police (where Pruitt had worked previously) as well. The source told us that Hoyson was advised that Edmonds should to talk to Seattle police to find out why he was terminated and that there was more information in public court testimony. (My Edmonds News has previously reported on that court case, in which Pruitt testifies about domestic violence incidents in his past.)
We asked Mayor Nelson and HR Director Neill Hoyson about this new information. Spokesperson Patrick Doherty, the city’s Economic Development and Community Services Director, responded by email Friday:
“We are moving forward at this time on our new police chief recruitment process, announced yesterday in the mayor’s video statement, and the details of which we will be happy to discuss further with you,” Doherty said. “These detailed questions about the past process are no longer germane.”
In the same email, Mayor Nelson offered this additional comment:
“What keeps me up at night is how to address the mounting concerns related to this pandemic,” Nelson said. “What I hear most from residents is when can I get the vaccine and when can my kids go back to school? These are the kinds of questions I am focusing on.”
Neither Nelson nor Neill Hoyson answered the questions we have raised. We have again asked the mayor for an interview.
My Edmonds News has also learned that just days before the confirmation vote, the city administration assured some — but not all — councilmembers that there was nothing in Pruitt’s past that would affect their plans to vote for him. Two of those councilmembers are Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Luke Distelhorst. Susan Paine and Laura Johnson have not answered questions we sent them about this.
The three other councilmembers said the city never alerted them. Diane Buckshnis, Vivian Olson and Kristiana Johnson told us they only found out about the domestic violence and career concerns after Olson obtained the federal records and sent them to human resources, the mayor and council.
One of the councilmembers the city reassured was Luke Distelhorst. He emailed us this statement when we asked about domestic violence concerns and when he knew.
“I had been informed by the administration around Dec. 4-5 that all due diligence (legal, FBI, background checks, reference checks, polygraphs, etc.) on those concerns had been completed,” Distelhorst said. “It was also my understanding that the individual is a current chief of police, past interim chief of police, and would have gone through similar checks for the hiring/promotion of those positions as well.”
Last week, former Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas told us that “HR knew about the domestic violence; he (Pruitt) disclosed it.” According to Fraley-Monillas, Neill Hoyson told her that Pruitt “disclosed everything in his background.”
However, it was only after our interview with Fraley-Monillas that the city, for the first time, confirmed that to My Edmonds News:
“Chief Pruitt disclosed to the city, before he was appointed, the two situations from his past that he also discussed in his 2009 trial testimony,” Neill Hoyson said.
Fraley-Monillas also added that “before Vivian (Olson) did the records check, we knew it. It was nothing that was hidden.”
Councilmember Olson said the city never reached out to her. Olson said in late November, she googled Pruitt, then contacted the HR Director Neill Hoyson after Olson found out that Pruitt had sued the City of Arlington in that civil rights case. “When I put in Sherman Pruitt’s name, the lawsuit was the second thing that showed up on the screen. Just the fact that he was suing a city, I thought we should look further,” Olson said.
She said that at that time, she didn’t know any other details about Pruitt, but contacted Hoyson — concerned, she told us, that such a lawsuit might be a “red flag” for his hiring by a city. Olson said Hoyson assured her that the city was doing an enhanced background check and that Pruitt was “thoroughly vetted.”
On Dec. 3, the day the mayor nominated Pruitt, Olson said she called Neill Hoyson again and asked to see a copy of the records. Hoyson, she said, told her that she didn’t have the documents. Olson scrambled to order them and received the records Sunday afternoon, Dec. 6.
As My Edmonds News has previously reported, the testimony in the civil rights case reveals Pruitt admitted to past instances of domestic violence. He testified that an arrest warrant was issued against him, then later dropped; he testified that as a member of the Marine Corps, he was served with a military “no contact order” and that his commander had ordered him to 16 weeks of counseling. Eventually, a federal judge dismissed that 2009 lawsuit in a summary judgement, ruling in favor of Arlington.
Two more councilmembers also said the city never alerted them about any issues before the vote. They said they only found out when they got Olson’s email packet on Dec. 6.
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis told My Edmonds News that “I was never given information regarding Pruitt’s prior history until I received the information Councilmember Olson sent on Sunday.”
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson also told us the city did not give her any advance notice of the issues; no emails, no phone call: “Absolutely not, I got no phone calls from the city. Absolutely not.”
As we reported previously, the domestic violence information is important because the Edmonds Police Department’s “Standards for Employment and Disqualifiers” specify that any act of domestic violence, as defined by law, disqualifies any police applicant. Under the city’s standards, an applicant does not have to be arrested or convicted. And, there is no time limitation on domestic violence; only the stipulation that an incident must have been “committed as an adult.”
On Dec. 8, the Edmonds City Council voted not to go into executive session to discuss any issues regarding the Pruitt nomination. A motion to table the confirmation until the following week was voted down 4-3, with Fraley-Monillas, Distelhorst, Johnson and Paine voting no to an executive session; Olson, Buckshnis and Kristiana Johnson voting yes.
The final vote, again 4-3, confirmed Pruitt. One week later, the mayor in a letter to Pruitt rescinded the job offer. His reason: Pruitt had not let Edmonds know that he had applied for a job in another city. We learned later that the missing informatinon was Pruitt’s application to be a patrol officer with Lake Stevens at least 10 years earlier. In the mayor’s letter, there was no mention of any other employment or domestic violence issues.
The council never discussed any of this in public or in executive session, even though the city had been told about the concerns and urged to investigate them in mid-November.
— By Bob Throndsen