Public upset over Tonasket Police Department issues

Mayor Brown accused of being racially offensive

TONASKET — The Tonasket City Council meeting last Tuesday, Jan. 8, quickly turned into a heated debate, continuing an ongoing discussion regarding the police department. Some council members even suggested the mayor resign over the issue.

Tonasket Mayor Dennis Brown
Tonasket Mayor Dennis Brown

Mayor Dennis Brown recently fired, rehired and then fired Police Chief Darin Odegaard. In addition, Reserve Officer John Cruz had his position terminated. The one remaining patrol officer, recent police academy graduate José Perez, as well as police clerk Diane Foreman were laid off, leaving the town without a police department. Tonasket is now looking to contract with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s office for police services, at least until the police department can be reformed.

Lisa McCoy, a concerned citizen, stated she felt the actions taken by the city government over the past month have been very concerning and reactive.

“If you look at the papers every week it seems like we’re on the front page,” said McCoy.

According to McCoy, she has researched the cost and possible detriment to the town of not having local law enforcement. She has also looked into possible solutions other than using the county as coverage, she said.

“There are so many little things to consider when you are negotiating and making these decisions,” said McCoy.

Mayor Brown suggested to McCoy that she meet with the Public Safety Committee and explain her ideas in more detail.

McCoy expressed her faith in the community and its ability to get things done when a need arises.

“This community gets it done, they have a heart for it, a passion for it and they will do it. There are people here that are available to you to research grants. We have architects, builders, suppliers, we have laborers, we have all you need to build that police station,” said McCoy.

McCoy suggested documents allegedly falsified by former Chief Odegaard, were in fact signed by Mayor Dennis Brown.

“Odegaard didn’t submit it to the Criminal Justice Training Commission, it was submitted by the city and signed by the Mayor. I wanted to set the record straight,” said McCoy.

Lee Thomas, another concerned citizen, asked the council if any other decision had been made since the last council meeting in regards to contracting with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department.

“We met today at one, they asked a lot of questions, we asked a lot of questions,” said Councilwoman Christa Levine

According to Levine, no decisions have been made.

One woman from the community asked where the accountability was for the decisions made by city officials in regards to the hiring of the officers.

“I’ve been trying to track and follow the information about the police department since last fall. I am concerned over the dismissal of the officers, it’s been very confusing,” said community member Jennifer Ward.

Vanessa Newell asked the council to take into account that they represent the city.

“I’ve become aware of some things that have been done and said that are completely unprofessional and just actually kind of horrendous as far as personally attacking these officers,” said Newell.

She added, “One of which is the fact that there was a meeting held between some of the council members, the mayor and chief of police where the personal life of one of these officers was being taken in account.”

Newell said her name was brought up in that meeting.

“Whether or not we’re having a personal relationship shouldn’t been the concern of the council or anyone else in regards to performing job duties. Another thing that I have become aware of is that one of the officers was actually asked to change their name to be something less stereotypical, which is very offensive to me,” said Newell.

Newell asked for an explanation from the council.

“Somebody changed their name?” asked Councilwoman Marylou Kriner.

“From José to Joseph,” said Jones.

“It’s just translation,” said Mayor Brown.

The room went from silence to a low rumble as Newell insisted that this was very unprofessional and not right.

Former Officer Perez stated he was told by Mayor Brown that he had changed his name from José to Joseph, because José sounds too stereotypical and too Hispanic.

“He asked me to introduce myself to the public as Joseph. He went on a ride along and on the ride along we met a citizen. That citizen introduced himself and I introduced myself, as Officer José Perez. Mayor looks at me and he says, ‘What did we talk about?’ I went back and said, my name is Joseph Perez,” said Perez.

Brenda Jones asked about a supposed meeting in which the topic of an officer’s sex life was allegedly being discussed.

“All I was asking was for clarification about the rumors that someone else had been saying in town. I have not been speaking those, but I wanted clarification because it was becoming an issue on his credibility,” said Councilwoman Jill Ritter.

“Cruz was being fully transparent and he was divulging personal information and that was on his own accord. I did not ask him about his personal life, he volunteered it. So, in order to squash rumors, because I was in support of the police department…. Yes, I had a special meeting with the mayor because that is the chain of command and the chief,” said Ritter.

Another woman said she is concerned about the response time to emergencies if the the city is covered by the county.

“Even if we had police here in the city limits, there are at least one to two sheriffs on duty in the north zone,” said Ritter.

Ritter assured the community that the council has kept the public’s safety at the forefront while making decisions.

“I live in this community too, I want to feel safe in this community, all these council members live in this community and I would think they all share that same concern,” said Ritter.

“Of course when we are talking about how we move forward with this, it’s just as much important to us as it is to you,” she added.

The community asked for an explanation as to why Perez was let go from his duties.

“Not publicly,” said Mayor Brown.

Perez answered and said the mayor told him the police department had been disbanded and there was no longer a police force.

“I asked the mayor, am I working on a current case, what should I do?” said Perez.

Perez said the mayor told him not to worry about it because the county would take over.

“I know how the county works, the county’s not going to take over a case, they would have to do the whole entire investigation over again,” said Perez.

Rene Bretz expressed her concerns about allegations made about falsified documents.

Bretz read email conversations between her and Trisha Jones of the Criminal Justice Training Commission about the sudden termination of Cruz.

“Nowhere did she say that you must terminate him,” said Bretz.

Bretz offered the email to whomever would like a copy.

“I want to recognize the Tonasket Police Department’s long time volunteer, Jason Utecht,” said former Tonasket Police Department Clerk Foreman

“I would like to personally and publically thank him for 13 years of his devoted and dedicated volunteer work,” said Foreman.

Foreman asked everyone to take the time to thank him when they see him.

In other business, Devon Sprague announced the Soap Box Derby event that he would like to hold during Founder’s Day.

“This is an awesome idea,” said Councilwoman Christa Levine.

During mayor, council and committee reports, Councilwoman Marylou Kriner stated she would like to plant a tree in honor of the late councilwoman, Claire Jeffko, in Founder’s Day Park, on Arbor Day.

See related stories:

‘No confidence’ in Tonasket mayor voiced by two councilmembers

Tonasket Police Chief fired, rehired and fired again

Former police chief alleged to have falsified documents, lied