Police chief: Policies are being examined, but it was up to KCSO to call State Patrol

Poulsbo officials say several police policies and procedures are being examined after a Kitsap County Sheriff’s officer, found intoxicated in his vehicle at Regal Cinemas and later at home on Clear Creek Road, was not cited.

POULSBO — Poulsbo officials say several police policies and procedures are being examined after a Kitsap County Sheriff’s officer, found intoxicated in his vehicle at Regal Cinemas and later at home on Clear Creek Road, was not cited.

The Poulsbo Police Department has been the subject of criticism and media reports about its handling of the case.

Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson thinks Poulsbo Police don’t warrant the criticism.

“Did we do it all right? We tried the best we could,” Erickson said. “Could we have done some things better? I think we’re going to look at policy to see. Did we do everything legal? Yes, I believe we did. But we always can improve.”

Sgt. Jim Porter was found intoxicated in his car Oct. 16 at the Regal Cinemas parking lot by Poulsbo Police Officer Danielle Branes. Because the keys were not in the ignition and he was parked safely off the roadway, Porter was allowed to remain in his vehicle, according to the police chief’s report.

Branes offered Porter a ride home but he refused, according to the police chief’s report and body cam video obtained by other media. Branes told Porter she wanted to make sure he didn’t drive.

Porter was later found in his car in the driveway of his home on Clear Creek Road about three miles outside of Poulsbo by Officer Jennifer Corn, who’s known him for 17 years.

Corn activated her body camera before speaking to Porter and called Poulsbo Police Chief Al Townsend and the acting sheriff’s supervisor, Ken Dickson, because Porter’s home is outside the city limits and in the sheriff’s department’s jurisdiction.

Townsend said the fact that she turned her body camera to document the encounter disproves claims that Poulsbo police tried to cover up any alleged preferential treatment given to Porter.

“If we were trying to hide something, Officer Corn wouldn’t have ever gotten out of the car,” Townsend said.

Corn turned off her body camera when Townsend arrived to discuss the investigation. Doing so is permissible under the department’s body camera policy.

Townsend said in retrospect the camera shouldn’t have been deactivated.

“The one thing I especially wish we could’ve done different is not have that camera off during that conversation,” Townsend said. “And frankly, if we’d been thinking about it — even though the policy allowed it — we would’ve left it on.”

During the time in which the camera was off, Townsend said he and Corn suggested Dickson ask Washington State Patrol to take over investigation. Dickson did not, according to Townsend.

“I don’t know how they came up with the decision to not do that. We weren’t part of that conversation,” Townsend said.

Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said he doesn’t know why Dickson didn’t call state patrol, but speculated that it was because Dickson had determined there was no probable cause to continue the investigation and state patrol would likely come to the same conclusion.

Townsend claimed the situation would’ve been handled differently if it had taken place within city limits.

“I can tell you, if this happened in Poulsbo … the state patrol would be contacted and they would take over the investigation,” Townsend said.

Townsend said the department is going to reexamine its body camera policy and how to deal with people who are intoxicated but refuse the offer of a ride.

Kim Hendrickson of Bainbridge Island was the lone resident to speak about the incident during public comment portion of the council meeting. Hendrickson said she’s long been a harsh critic of law enforcement and was even fired from a job for speaking out against policing.

But, “It’s clear to me that events on Clear Creek Road were handled according to policy and protocol,” Hendrickson said. “There was nothing technically wrong with what happened, as far as I can tell. But things could’ve been handled better.”

Poulsbo Police Department policies under review

• LEAVING BODY CAMERAS ON: Townsend said the department “will be reviewing this policy and recommending that the body worn cameras remain active during the entire interaction when the subject of the investigation is another law enforcement officer or person of influence, such as an elected official, to ensure additional transparency.”

• COURTESY RIDES: The department will meet with legal counsel regarding courtesy rides “to determine if … there is an alternative when the occupant of the vehicle refuses a courtesy ride home, much like Porter did,” Townsend said.

• “PHYSICAL CONTROL”: If someone is sitting in the driver’s seat but the keys are not in the ignition, does that constitute having “physical control” of the vehicle?

“Since this incident, we are reviewing ‘in physical control’ cases with the municipal prosecutor,” Townsend said.

“As we continue to follow-up on this, we will be seeking access to all similar cases submitted to the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office by all county law enforcement agencies to determine if there is any history of such cases being charged.”