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Originally published February 18, 2010 at 5:38 PM | Page modified February 18, 2010 at 10:49 PM

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City appeals reinstatement of fired Seattle police officer

The Seattle City Attorney's Office Thursday appealed a review board's reinstatement of a Seattle police officer who was fired for dishonesty, saying the board overstepped its bounds.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seattle City Attorney's Office on Thursday appealed a review board's reinstatement of a Seattle police officer who was fired for dishonesty, saying the board overstepped its bounds.

City attorneys plan to ask a King County Superior Court judge to hear the appeal and block Officer Eric Werner from returning to work while the case is under review.

Werner won his job back last month after appealing his firing to the city's three-member Public Safety Civil Service Commission.

The board unanimously found that Werner had acted dishonestly when he failed to disclose that he had punched a suspect, but in a 2-1 vote ruled that termination was too harsh and reduced the penalty to a 30-day suspension to be deducted from back pay.

The outcome prompted Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess, chair of the council's public-safety committee, to urge City Attorney Peter Holmes to consider an appeal.

Commission members Joel Nark and Herb Johnson found the Police Department doesn't apply its dishonesty rule in an evenhanded way, noting that in past cases where honesty was an issue, officers either received no suspension of duties or only temporary suspension of duties. They also said no other employee has been terminated based on dishonesty.

The third board member, former judge Terry Carroll, wrote in his partial dissent that the previous disciplinary actions cited by the majority did not involve findings of actual dishonesty.

"We feel the commission overstepped its bounds by striking the termination and we think Judge Carroll got it right," Kathy Mulady, spokeswoman for the City Attorney's Office, said Thursday.

City attorneys face a steep challenge, in which they must first persuade the judge to take the case under a writ of review. The attorneys must show the commission lacked substantial evidence to support its decision or failed to follow the law in reaching its findings, and may raise questions about whether the commission adhered to a state civil-service standard requiring it to act in good faith.

If the court accepts the case, the city would have to prove that the commission exceeded its authority.

Werner, 31, who joined the department in 2000, was fired for failing to tell internal investigators in 2007 that he had punched an agitated man who complained he was Tased.

Werner maintained he had forgotten about the punch until he applied for a job with the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office in May 2008, and then disclosed it as part of a hiring process that included polygraph examinations.

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The Sheriff's Office didn't hire Werner and notified Seattle police of his disclosure. After an internal investigation, he was fired last May by Interim Police Chief John Diaz.

Werner appealed his firing to the commission, in what was viewed as a key test of the department's honesty policy, which presumes officers will be fired for dishonesty in their official duties.

During his appeal hearing in October, the commission also heard testimony that Werner had offered conflicting information about whether he once engaged in inappropriate behavior with a man who had fallen asleep or had simply dreamed it.

Though Werner got his job back, the dishonesty finding led King County prosecutors to add his name to a list of potential witnesses whose honesty has been questioned. Most of the 52 names on the list are law-enforcement officers. Prosecutors will be required to notify defense attorneys whenever Werner is called to testify.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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