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Originally published January 8, 2013 at 10:38 AM | Page modified January 9, 2013 at 9:07 PM

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2 Bellevue police commanders demoted for extramarital affair

A sex scandal in the top ranks of the Bellevue Police Department has resulted in demotions and a shake-up of its command staff.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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2 marriages ruined, 2 demotions, thousands of dollars of wasted resources to... MORE
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Two senior Bellevue Police Department commanders have been demoted for failing to report an extramarital affair that has rattled the department's command ranks and will, according to Chief Linda Pillo, "impact this department for years to come."

Pillo issued disciplinary letters to former Maj. John Manning and his subordinate, former Capt. Autumn Fowler, condemning their poor judgment in failing to notify superiors of their eight-month affair. Manning and Fowler both were demoted to the rank of lieutenant, removing them from Pillo's command staff.

Manning is married. Fowler was legally separated when the affair started, according to Lincoln County records, where the separation paperwork was filed. Her divorce was finalized in November.

The investigation began in October and was conducted by the State Patrol at Pillo's request, said Officer Carla Iafrate, the department's public-information officer.

The investigation, outlined in hundreds of pages of heavily redacted interviews, revealed a soap opera-like atmosphere of suspicion and sexual tension, according to the documents obtained by The Seattle Times through a public-disclosure request.

The affair was discovered when another Bellevue police captain, who was dating Fowler at the time, stopped by her house unannounced one night in August and found Manning's police car in her driveway, according to the documents.

The captain, who was not identified in the documents, entered the house, where Fowler — in a bathrobe — tried but failed to keep him from going into the bedroom. There, the captain found a naked Manning hiding in a closet, according to the investigation report.

Manning and Fowler told investigators they had tried to call off the affair several times but had sex that night while meeting to discuss possible discipline for another Bellevue police employee.

What ensued was a flurry of midnight phone calls and tearful mea culpas to other commanders in the department. Meanwhile, the captain who discovered the affair reported it to the department and to Manning's wife, according to the documents.

One friend interviewed by State Patrol investigators compared the drama to "middle-school antics."

The investigation revealed that Manning and Fowler began the affair in January 2012, apparently while on department-related business in Durham, N.C. They also carried on while on business in Spokane and at an FBI National Academy function held in Chelan.

Fowler and Manning both denied the relationship had affected their police work.

Manning was one of three majors in the department; Fowler was one of eight captains. Majors and captains make up the department's command staff.

Department policies discourage mixing personal and professional relationships and demand that officers avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of impropriety.

Manning and Fowler showed extremely poor judgment in beginning the relationship and, worse, hid it for eight months, Pillo wrote in the disciplinary letters.

Policy requires that any personal relationships that do develop be reported so the department can avoid liability and conflicts of interest, according to the letters.

The affair has subjected the city to "a variety of legal or employment claims for biased or discriminatory treatment" either from the captain who turned them in or from others he managed, Pillo wrote. The relationship subjected the officers to "potential extortion" from someone who might expose them.

Manning, the chief wrote, "consciously disregarded the interests of the Department to further your own personal interests. ... You chose your personal wants and needs over the Department's for eight months."

Fowler's letter said she "did report alleged threats to a deputy chief," referring to an incident in which someone Fowler had been dating called Manning and, according to the investigation, made drunken threats.

It is not clear whether the threats were made by the jilted captain or someone else, since the names had been redacted by Bellevue police lawyers.

In booting her from the command staff and back to the rank of lieutenant, Pillo said Fowler's "deceit and personal priorities have severely damaged my trust in your ability to be a member of the command staff who must as a group and individually obey the Department Manual and guide others to do the same."

Both were given "last chance notices," and Pillo said she would fire them if they violated that portion of the policy again.

"It cannot be emphasized enough how much our line sworn officers and professional department employees look to Command Staff actions as a benchmark for what is expected of them and for establishing the honor and integrity of the department," Pillo wrote. "I believe they are watching my actions in this investigation to determine whether I do hold Command Staff accountable for their violations."

Manning and Fowler did not respond to a request for comment forwarded through the Police Department.

The shake-up comes a month after Pillo demoted a supervisor on the department's bomb squad and disciplined two other officers for the drunken off-duty behavior of two of the officers at a Seattle Seahawks game in which a Seattle police officer was taunted and showered with obscenities after she stopped them for littering.

Two of the Bellevue officers were thrown out of the game in the first quarter for drunken behavior in which they repeatedly used foul language in front of another fan and his young family.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

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