By Tessa Sari
Northwest Asian Weekly
After a surprising resignation — followed by some controversial finger-pointing and an administrative leave order — Medina Police Department (MPD) Chief Jeffrey Chen has finally been dismissed from his position.
“Chief Chen officially has been terminated since Wednesday [April 27], so he’s no longer working for the city,” said Medina City Manager Donna Hanson, in a telephone interview. She described part of her job as being responsible for hiring and terminating employees. Hanson declined to give further comment about Chen’s termination and said to refer to the city’s public records on the case.
“We’ll make an open recruitment for the new chief. From now on, Lt. Dan Yourkoski will be the acting chief,” Hanson added, confirming that the recruitment process hasn’t been established yet.
Lt. Yourkoski declined to give comment, instead deferring to Hanson.
The initial resignation
Chen has served the department since 2001, and he became chief in 2004. He previously held leadership positions within the Seattle Police Department (SPD) as an acting lieutenant and detective sergeant. SPD declined to comment on this story.
On Dec. 17 last year, Chen sent out a public letter, resigning from his post as chief, effective Dec. 31. He stated that he wanted to “get another opportunity to finish my working career.”
However, six days later, Chen rescinded his resignation and released a seven-page letter to the Medina City Council stating that he quit because City Manager Donna Hanson was forcing him out of his post.
In his letter, Chen stated that problems for him started in October 2010, when he was looking into the leak of important information by a city employee who logged onto the department archiving system.
Chen reported the leak to the city manager. Apparently, Hanson told him to stop looking into it, Chen claimed.
In December, wrote Chen, he was interviewed by attorney Michael Bolasina, who conducted an investigation for the city related to concerns of unauthorized access to the city’s e-mail system.
Chen said he was the only one being interrogated, so he assumed it was because of his report on the leak. A few days later, Hanson suspended Chen for unauthorized use of the archiving system.
In his letter, Chen stated that what Hanson did was intolerable. In his letter, Chen also asked to be returned to his position and that the city clear his name.
Chen’s claim became a hot topic at the city council meeting in January. A vote was called to fire Hanson, but only two council members supported it, Shawn Whitney and Janie Lee. They were outvoted by the rest of the council, 5–2.
The councilmembers could not be reached for comment.
Chen was put on administrative leave for months, pending the results of an outside investigation.
Before deciding on the termination, Hanson sent a Loudermill, or pre-disciplinary notice on March 30, arranging a hearing with Chen on April 6.
According to public documents detailing the process and conclusions of an outside investigation, investigator Ellen Lenhart interviewed 11 people, including Hansen, Chen, Yourkoski, various Medina officers, other city employees, and Bolasina.
According to public documents, Lenhart found Chen guilty on six counts: dishonesty, abuse of his position as chief, unauthorized removal and/or destruction of public records, improper access to city resources, improper access to city e-mail archives, and loss of confidence by subordinate officers.
Among Lenhart’s findings were issues concerning “several purchases [Chen] had authorized using city funds … missing or voided tickets that had been issued by MPD officers and then voided by [Chen] without the issuing officers’ knowledge, and documents that had purportedly been authored by MPD officers and then approved by Chief Chen, but which the officers claim they did not author.”
Regarding whether Hanson had coerced Chen to resign, Lenhart wrote, “Either Chief Chen or Ms. Hanson is lying about what transpired between them. … Their differing accounts cannot be explained as a misunderstanding or miscommunication. One of them is fabricating his or her version. During my interviews, I elicited compelling facts that support Ms. Hanson’s version of events and discredit the chief’s version.”
Hanson terminated Chen based on the findings of the investigation.
“Based on the seriousness of the findings made by the independent investigator in the report, the circumstances surrounding the incidents and finding, the seriousness of the violations of Police Department Policies … and the negative overall impact of the violations and incidents on the organization, I conclude that most of the individual violations, alone, form separate and distinct basis for termination taken collectively, I have no choice but to terminate your employment,” Hanson wrote in Chen’s termination letter.
The City of Medina’s website states, “It was determined that Chief Chen’s departure, while extremely difficult, is ultimately in the best interests of the city, its residents, and the Medina Police Department. The city will initiate a comprehensive recruitment process in the coming weeks and will involve the public.”
A day after Chen’s termination, an e-mail was sent to Medina and Hunts Point citizens, claiming to be written by Chen. However, neither Bellevue Patch nor Northwest Asian Weekly could wholly confirm that the e-mail was written by Chen. The e-mail stated that Hanson terminated Chen based on conclusions in an investigative report that Chen wholeheartedly refutes.
The e-mail supposedly from Chen contained a 51-page document rebuttal, also supposedly written by Chen. The rebuttal claimed that the city manager and her co-workers coordinated to make Chen look guilty. The rebuttal questioned Hanson’s authority and accused her of having a “conflict of interest as the decision maker,” also claiming that Hanson had a racial bias against him.
Generally, Chen’s document strongly disagrees with nearly all of Lenhart’s findings, and, in the document, Chen denied any wrong-doing and characterized the investigation as a witch hunt.
On May 9, according to a report written by Bellevue Patch’s Jeanne Gustafson, Chen’s attorney, Marianne Jones, presented a request for Chen to be reinstated at a city council meeting. The request was signed by about 100 Medina and Hunts Points residents. It is also posted online.
According to Bellevue Patch, about 10 residents spoke at the meeting, and most defended Chen and directed anger at the council. ♦
Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.
Tessa Sari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.