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Black Diamond denies former police officers’ claims
A multi-million dollar claim for damages filed by two former Black Diamond police officers against the city was denied, according to a letter from attorney Robert L. Christie, who represents the police department, Mayor Rebecca Olness and Police Chief Jamey Kiblinger.
The damages are sought for alleged unprofessional behavior and sexual harassment by Kiblinger.
A notice filed the first week of August by Covington-based attorney Robert Kim, who represents Eric Weinreich, sought $2 million. The brief stated Weinreich was terminated March 27 by Olness. The claim for damages names the city police department, Olness and Kiblinger.
Kim filed a second claim on behalf of Scott Oak at about the same time. Oak was laid off Dec. 27, 2012, and his claim is for $1 million.
Christie, of the Seattle-based Christie Law Group, wrote in a letter to Kim, “The purpose of this letter is to notify you that the city is formally denying both Mr. Weinreich’s and Mr. Oak’s claims for damages.”
According to Christie, Weinreich and Oak “submitted complaint letters after they were disciplined for misconduct and in the case of Mr. Weinreich misconduct involving dishonesty. Until consequences were imposed for their misconduct, they never made any complaints about how they were treated by the Chief or the City.”
As of Oct. 25, Kim stated in an email interview the two claim briefs were not filed in court.
Kim wrote regarding the letter, “I think Mr. Christie’s response was geared toward the media to at least some degree. He didn’t address some core issues. It also appears that certain BDPD members have not been honest with him and issues of credibility and character exist as well.”
Yvonne Ward, an attorney based in Auburn, is representing Kiblinger.
Ward said in a phone interview Oct. 25 a defamation countersuit is being prepared for her client against Weinreich and Oak.
Ward was the interim city attorney in Black Diamond for a short time in November 2009 when the city administrator,
Leonard Smith, was placed on administrative leave and the city attorney, Loren Combs, resigned.
Termination of officer
Weinreich’s termination centered on an incident at Northwest Fitness Zone in Buckley, which prompted an internal affairs investigation for dishonesty and untruthfulness.
According to Kim’s brief, as well as Black Diamond Police Department reports and memos, Weinreich was working out at Northwest Fitness Zone around Oct. 20, 2012. He began talking to James Keller, who at the time was a sergeant with the Bonney Lake Police Department and is now the assistant chief there.
According to internal affairs interviews conducted by Black Diamond Cmdr. Greg Goral and Officer Brian Lynch, Weinreich made numerous disparaging remarks about Kiblinger and the police department.
In a memo dated Oct. 31, 2012, from Goral, Weinreich said the Black Diamond Police Department was “’(expletive) up’ and they were about to be taken over by King County.” Weinreich reportedly added, “She’s (expletive) clueless. She has no idea what she is doing.”
Keller said Weinreich did not specifically use the chief’s name, but, “I assume he meant the chief of police.”
Goral’s document stated Weinreich said the chief was disorganized and “she is in with the mayor on promotions and layoffs.”
Keller told Lynch he discussed the incident with Bonney Lake Officer Chad Kiblinger, who is the husband of the Black Diamond police chief.
About a week later, Chad Kiblinger asked Weinreich if he would mind if someone from Black Diamond called him to ask about the incident.
In a Black Diamond Police Department memo from Lynch concerning the investigation, Weinreich said, “I would not be that stupid as to make comments of that nature to a person who I know is friends with the chief.”
Keller was interviewed by phone Monday and said he did not initiate the internal affairs complaint following the conversation.
“Why in the world would I make this up?” Keller said. “I didn’t make the complaint. It doesn’t make sense.”
In the Weinreich claim brief, Kim wrote there was a “vindictive family affair of the Kiblingers against the Claimant (Weinreich).”
Following the Black Diamond investigation, the incident was turned over to the Tukwila Police Department, which found Weinreich was not telling the truth about the conversation with Keller at the Northwest Fitness Zone, according to the Black Diamond attorney’s letter. Investigation of the incident was turned over to Tukwila Police, an outside agency, because the statements offered by Keller and Weinreich were completely opposed. Weinreich’s termination followed the findings of Tukwila Police’s investigation.
According to Kim’s brief, Olness terminated Weinreich and notified him his claim against the chief was closed.
Weinreich’s August claim for damages included allegations of Kiblinger using the “F” word, along with derogatory racial and sexual terms in front of staff about officers.
Weinreich stated in a letter to Olness dated March 16, he was “sexually harassed by Chief Kiblinger at a 2010 department Christmas party at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum.”
According to Weinreich, Kiblinger and other officers made remarks about the size of his penis.
He wrote in the letter the alleged harassment continued at a department party at Kiblinger’s home in 2011.
Weinreich wrote, “I have not brought this information forward until now due to fear of retaliation by Chief Kiblinger and Commander Goral.”
According to Weinreich’s August damages brief, the reason for the termination was, “Claimant has brought to light a plethora of issues concerning Kiblinger’s lack of qualifications to be chief, let alone a senior officer at BDPD, her immaturity, lack of professionalism, personal bias and vindictiveness.”
Oak filed a sexual harassment grievance with the city prior to the claim for damages. The city hired a retired 30-year police officer from Moses Lake to investigate the claim. According to the city, the officer interviewed every member of the police department and found Kiblinger used the “F-Bomb” too often, but Oak’s grievances were found to be without merit.
Olness gave Kiblinger a written reprimand concerning the chief’s use of profanity.
The letter from Christie paints a different picture of the events surrounding the claims.
According to Christie, Oak was disgruntled with Kiblinger after he was, “given a verbal warning on April 19, 2012, by then Acting Sgt. Brian Lynch based on unfavorable comments about Chief Kiblinger made to Mayor Olness and in the presence of others at City Hall on April 2, 2012.”
Christie’s letter also gave a different account of the 2010 party at Suncadia.
“At the 2010 event, Mr. Weinreich loudly commenced a discussion of his private body parts. Mr. Weinreich was the initiator of this banter among the cops at a private party,” Christie wrote.
Christie wrote neither Oak nor Weinreich ever reported “sexual harassment or hostility in their work environment. In fact, years passed before they made any complaints … In both of their cases, the chronology of events reveals that it is only after Mr. Oak was laid off as part of a work force reduction and Mr. Weinreich was terminated for making false statement that they made any complaints.”
The letter also discussed an issue concerning alleged deleted Black Diamond Police Officers Association emails and a missing password.
Oak was serving as president of the Black Diamond Police Officers’ Association from January 2012 until he was laid off.
Christie asked Kim to “retrieve that password from Mr. Oak” for the account because the current president could not access the Yahoo account.
Christie wrote that one email was found from Oak to Weinreich dated Nov. 30, 2012.
“This email must have escaped the destruction of similar emails and is very revealing in its content,” Christie wrote. “I call your attention to the second paragraph, which states, ‘The BDPOA email account is BDPOA@outlook.com and the password is (an expletive with the chief’s call sign) … Your clients’ use of a derogatory term directed at their superior officer, the Chief of Police, is indicative of their attitude and behavior.”
Defamation countersuit pending
According to Ward, who is preparing the defamation countersuit, Weinreich and Oak created a “sexist environment. They were very sexist toward my client. They could not handle working for a woman.”
Ward said Weinreich began the inappropriate conversation concerning body parts.
“It was purposeful,” Ward said. “The chief was the only female (and) he was clearly trying to harass her.”
Ward said Kiblinger worked her way up through the department in a male dominated field and never had any problems “until a dishonest cop gets fired. Black Diamond has a zero-tolerance policy for dishonest cops.”
She also said the police guild voted 4-1 against pursuing the two former officers’ grievances.
Ward said she is not concerned about the request for damages because, “they will be paying my client.”