Richland has sold off the Lee Street dock for the next 15 years. Councilmembers now have questions

Lee Street Dock

The Richland City Council regularly approves multiple items on a consent calendar with one vote and no discussion.  Over a month after voting on Dec. 15 for 14 items that included a 15-year contract for American Cruise Line (ACL) to take over the Lee Street Dock, Richland City Council members say they need more information.

The councilmembers had second thoughts when the attorney for the competing cruise line, American Queen Steamboat Company, complained about the contract during citizen comments at the Jan. 19 city council meeting.

The contract requires that ACL pay the city $45,000 the first year to have priority docking. ACL must provide reservations to other businesses one year in advance.

According to American Queen’s Eric Denley, “It practically makes it impossible for a company like ours to come to Richland.” Denley explained that American Queen schedules two to three years in advance and is working on its 2023 schedule now.

Denley pointed out that his company’s cruises brought 12,102 visitors to Richland in 2019 and contributed $2.7 million to the local economy. 

Mayor Ryan Lukson said later in the meeting, “I wasn’t aware of some of the details that Mr. Denley brought forward.” 

Councilmembers Phil Lemley, Sandra Kent and Terry Christensen also said that they would like more information. The packet that accompanies the agenda for the Dec. 15 meeting included the contract on pages 92-106

Lukson, Kent and Councilmember Bob Thompson are attorneys.

Any member of the council can ask to have a consent calendar item pulled for discussion and a separate vote, but on Dec. 15 no one asked to pull the dock contract.

Lukson and Director of Parks and Facilities Joe Schiessl declined to answer The Observer’s questions about the status of the contract and how much the cruise ships paid for docking in 2019, the last normal year for cruises.

The cover sheet and resolution for the contract approval mention that “talks are underway” about a new dock that ACL will build at Columbia Point, but Denley pointed out during citizen comment that there is no requirement in the contract for such a dock.

Astoria, Oregon awarded a contract to ACL in 2019 to manage their dock after a bidding process that included American Queen. The Observer spoke with Astoria Public Works Director Jeff Herrington who said the contract had worked out well for the city and he had not heard any complaints about scheduling.

In a phone call with Denley, he told The Observer, “We found out earlier in the process and were able to get some certainty in that contract.”

According to Denley, the Richland contract has already been signed. He said that while he was disappointed that his company had not had the opportunity to participate in the process, he appreciated that city staff had reached out to him the day after his comments and offered to assist his company in finding an alternative.

The Richland City Council plans to discuss the matter at its Jan. 26 council workshop session that begins at 6:00 p.m.

Franklin County Deputy’s Past Violations Have Similarities to Jones Shooting

Clarification:  The Toppenish Police Department’s newly purchased vehicles do not have dashboard cameras.  The article has been edited to reflect that.

A Franklin County Sheriff’s deputy had enough violations at his past job to warrant serious counseling from the police chief on May 11, 2018, according to documents obtained by the Observer. Eighteen months later on November 18, 2019, Deputy Cody Quantrell killed Dante Jones in circumstances similar to those he had been counseled about in Toppenish, where Quantrell was a police officer. The Observer obtained the three-page counseling memo written by Toppenish Police Chief Curt Ruggles May 14, 2018, and a citizen complaint against Quantrell by submitting a public record request.

According to Ruggles, Quantrell pursued a vehicle in a reckless manner for 30 minutes for a traffic violation; pulled a gun on the wrong suspect in a motorcycle reckless driving case and then failed to report the use of force until a complaint was filed; and he damaged patrol vehicles 7 times. 

In his memo Ruggles describes the problems with Quantrell’s vehicle pursuit: 

“1. The pursuit was initiated for a traffic violation of failing to stop/yield while exiting an alley. This is a civil infraction.

 2. At best the actions of the suspect vehicle would constitute a Reckless Driving charge, which is still a gross misdemeanor.

3. The pursuit lasted for approximately 30 minutes, in which almost all of the driver’s actions caused a significant risk to the public’s safety, responding officer’s safety as well as your own safety.

4. Several times throughout the pursuit you mirrored or mimicked the reckless and dangerous actions of the suspect. Both while there was no traffic as well as times where there was traffic.

 5. You intentionally caused significant damage to your patrol vehicle, by driving around/through a dead end street/barricade to continue the pursuit.”

The night of the shooting of the unarmed Dante Jones, Jones was clocked at speeds of anywhere from 55 mph to 87 mph on a rural Franklin County Road at around 3:00 a.m. After the initial pursuit involving two other officers, Sergeant Gordon Thomasson says over the police radio, “he’s not driving recklessly or anything at this point, he’s pretty much slowed down to highway speeds”.  (Radio transcripts were included in the Tri-Cities Special Investigative Unit Report obtained by the Observer with a public record request.) He “commanded” that Quantrell “terminate the pursuit” (Page 6 of the report). Instead Quantrell continued until he claimed that he was being brake checked and almost hit by Jones. “Assault 1” he said (Page 57 of the SIU report).

In counseling Quantrell in Toppenish, Ruggles quotes Pursuit Driving Policy (SOP 40.005):  “Also, reckless and unsafe driving after police engagement is not part of the determination as to whether or not the suspect vehicles’ actions create an immediate risk to public safety.” 

On the day of the Quantrell counseling in Toppenish a motorcyclist registered a complaint against Quantrell for pulling a gun on him for alleged reckless driving.  The motorcyclist was stopped by Quantrell at an ATM because his clothing matched a report on a reckless motorcyclist made by another officer. Quantrell claimed the motorcyclist was trying to flee even though the cyclist said his motorcycle was not running. According to Ruggles’ memo, “Again, this is 6 minutes after the initial call and nowhere near the area of town the motorcycle would been intercepted if it would have continued northbound on North Meyer… This stop is merely a stop for reckless driving, there has been no violence towards another.” The memo notes that Ruggles “viewed the video.” It is not clear where the video originated, but some Toppenish police cars have dashboard cameras.

Ruggles continued in the memo: “I do not feel the force option of drawing your duty weapon and bringing on target was reasonable or necessary for that time and that place. That aside, the tactic of you advancing on the suspect with your weapon drawn, without cover officers being present is not a tactic that has been trained at this department or even a tactic that is safe.” He continues: “What you did is considered ‘Tombstone Courage’ and that behavior has resulted in injuries and even death in police officers nationwide.”

Furthermore, Ruggles wrote that Quantrell “employed a deadly force option and failed to document the incident until the next day, after Lucas had already called the department indicating his desire to file a complaint and speak with me.”  Ruggles cited this as a violation of SOP 40.002 – Departmental Use of Force.

In the Dante Jones case, Quantrell stated that when Jones pulled his vehicle next to his, he got out of his patrol car with his weapon in his right hand, opened the passenger side door and reached in with his left hand to take keys out of the ignition. He claims Jones hit the gas and Quantrell had to shoot the unarmed Jones four times because he was trapped in the car and feared that he would be “drug under the car or ran over” (pg. 6 of the SIU report). According to the police radio transcript, no more than 39 seconds elapsed between Jones pulling up to Quantrell’s vehicle and shots being fired.

The Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Response Team concluded: “Four shots were fired into the vehicle striking Mr. Dante Jones multiple times from the open passenger door/window while he was in the driver seat.”(Page 478 of the report). 

According to the crime scene team, three of the four shell casings were found on the road; one was found in the car. “All of the bullet paths associated with the multiple gunshot wounds to Mr. Donte Jones were from his right to left.”

The Observer contacted Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond to ask what policies and investigations he used in the process of hiring new deputies.  He responded: “Hiring of Sheriff Office Employee’s/Deputies is extensive. One must first pass a written and physical testing process to establish themselves on a Civil Service list.  Once on a hiring list and before the being hired the agency does an exhaustive background investigation on the person. An investigation which involves visiting past employers, neighborhoods where the person lived and so on. After this process is complete the applicant has to undergo a polygraph, medical and psychological examinations. Then they are offered a position if the Sheriff or Chief chooses as you get to pick from the top five applicants.”

 Prosecutor Shawn Sant wrote the Observer a month ago, “I am still awaiting evidence to be evaluated and returned from the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory. I will not be able to complete my findings until I have ALL available evidence for review and consideration.”  He has not responded to a recent request for additional information.

Judicial Candidate Sharon Brown Wants to Move From the Defendant’s Chair to the Judge’s Chair in Benton-Franklin Superior Court

Since 2012, judicial candidate Sharon Brown and her ex-husband Fraser Hawley have been almost continuously involved in lawsuits filed against them in Benton-Franklin Superior Court.  Now she wants to be a judge there.  In her official Candidate Statement she emphasizes her lawmaking in the Washington State Senate:

“As a business lawyer, a City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem, and finally as your State Senator for the past eight years, I have developed a broad and unique skill set to make me an outstanding judge.  Since 2013, I have been creating, revising and establishing policy to become law, thus I understand the true meaning of the law, and how it should be applied.”

Brown did not return calls requesting comment.  However, public records from the Superior Court as well as Benton County property records and newspaper articles provide information about five lawsuits in which she was named.  Settlements were reached in four cases and dates are noted but the full details are not available to the public.  The fifth suit is ongoing.

December 11, 2012, Nor Am Investment LLC sued Fraser Hawley and Sharon Brown for payment of a promissory note for $300,000 due to be paid on April 25, 2012.  At the time Hawley was working on development in Badger Mountain South.  In the court papers Hawley responded that the $300,000 was for earnest money on property for which a purchase and sales agreement had been executed.  In addition, Hawley responded that the plaintiff had not compensated Hawley for the reasonable value of the benefits of Hawley’s designs, efforts, engineering and resources.  The case was settled in March 2013.

December 2, 2013, Brown and Hawley were sued for “Fraud, Misrepresentation, and Conversion.” According to the complaint in the court records, the plaintiff gave a check to Hawley written to Cynergy Tower Investco for $101,106.33 on July 8, 2011.  The check was intended to be an investment in a 22,000 square-foot condominium structure on the real property owned by Cynergy LLC.  Hawley and one or more of the other defendants represented that the plaintiffs would become percentage owners of Cynergy Investco.  Some months later Plaintiffs discovered that Cynergy Investco was not a legally registered in the state of Washington until about July 9, 2013.  In the complaint the plaintiffs asked for interest on the $101,106.33 from July 8, 2011 to September 5, 2013 when the defendants had issued a check for the sum to the plaintiffs.   The case was settled in June 2016.

August 29, 2017 Fraser Hawley and Sharon Brown and their business partners sued Banner Bank which was preparing to foreclose on their property at 4309 W. 27th Avenue in Kennewick for a loan of $4,136,678.11 that was due May 30, 2017.   The plaintiffs argued that the bank was not negotiating in good faith and fair dealing.  They claimed that the value of the Banks collateral greatly exceeded the amount owed on the loans and monthly payments were always timely paid.   The owners said the bank knew that while the owners had sufficient assets for repayment, the assets were not liquid and would need to be obtained with the assistance of some financial planning.

On September 12, 2017, Banner Bank countersued Sharon Brown and Fraser Hawley and their business partners regarding the delinquent loan.   According to court documents, the original promissory note had been signed on or about April 26, 2007 with an original maturity date of May 1, 2014.  But the loan was amended and extended until May 30, 2017.  The Bank claimed that they were entitled to immediate turnover of the collateral by the defendants.

The lawsuits were combined and according to court records a settlement was reached in early 2018.  Hawley and Brown divorced on March 30, 2018 in Walla Walla, Washington Superior Court.  She received the Kennewick property in the divorce settlement but later sold her share to partners on the project.

August 28, 2018, Michael Shemali, owner of MS Properties LLC and a former neighbor of Hawley and Brown, sued them and Thomas W. Arnold for repayment of two loans. This suit is the basis for Kennewick City Council Member John Trumbo’s “investigation” into the sale of Brown’s house and her knowledge of the marijuana business which resulted in an ethics complaint against him.     

Shemali claimed that Hawley and Arnold had borrowed $500,000 on February 10, 2016 to be used to purchase equipment, build structures, and otherwise fund the Pure Green cannabis operation.  About October 26, 2016, Shemali made a second loan of $250,000 for additional expenses at the cannabis operation.  As evidence, Shemali presented the two promissory notes that appeared to have been signed by Hawley and Arnold.

In her response, Sharon Brown claimed that she was not involved in and had no knowledge of the alleged promissory notes and the plaintiffs’ claims against her should be dismissed.  Hawley claimed in his response that he had never been provided proof of any money being transferred from Plaintiff Shemali.  In addition, Hawley claimed that Arnold and Shemali negotiated the various loan agreements without Hawley.

January 29, 2019, Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom ruled in favor of the plaintiff:

The Court finds that the Complaint does not assert a claim against Ms. Brown in her individual capacity.  Rather the Complaint seeks to hold Ms. Brown’s and Mr. Hawley’s marital community, and Mr. Hawley’s separate property, liable for the debt owed on the promissory notes.

The Shemali suit against Brown, Hawley and Arnold continues in the Benton-Franklin Superior Court while Sharon Brown campaigns to be a judge there.

Forensic Evidence Contradicts Franklin Sheriff Deputies’ Statements in the Shooting of Unarmed Dante Redmond Jones

Dante Jones on active duty with the Marines

Forensic evidence in the Special Investigative Unit’s Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Case #19-05347, obtained through a public records request made to the Franklin County prosecutor, contradicts statements by the deputies involved in shooting unarmed Dante Redmond Jones. The shooting occurred on November 18, 2019 in rural Franklin County. Without dashboard cameras, body cameras and witnesses, collecting other evidence remains the only method for judging the veracity of officer accounts. 

The Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Response Team concluded:

Four shots were fired into the vehicle striking Mr. Dante Jones multiple times from the open passenger door/window while he was in the driver seat. (Page 478 of the report)

This conclusion was based on the location of the bullet holes and trajectory of the bullets. (Pages 664-681)   

But the shooter, Franklin County Deputy Cody Quantrell, backed by Deputy Andrew Gardner have a different story. Deputy Quantrell stated that after he pulled up next to Jones’ car with his gun in one hand he had reached into the car with his left hand to get the car keys out of the ignition when Jones accelerated the car. Quantrell said that passenger door closed on him and he became pinned between the seat and the car door. Fearing for his life he shot Jones.

The shooting occurred after an on again, off again high speed chase, after which the two, Gardner and Quantrell, seemed confused about whether there were one or two “near collisions” with Jones who was clocked at anywhere from 87mph to 55 mph on the rural Franklin County Highway at around three o’clock in the morning. (Page 7) No damage can be seen on any of the sheriff department vehicles which are pictured in the report.

Four shots were fired. Three of the bullet casings were found in the middle of the road. (page 124-138) The other casing was found on the floor of the passenger side of the car (Page 681). If the door was closed on Quantrell, how did the three casings end up in the road? And why did the trajectory of the bullets show that they were fired from an open car door or window as the Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Report Team reports and not from close range from the passenger seat in the car where Quantrell said he was trapped?

At around 03:18 Sargeant Gordon Thomasson who had also been involved in the chase, gave a “terminate pursuit command.”  But Deputy Quantrell was not satisfied with that and said, “do you care if we still follow from a distance” (page 7). There was no response. Although Thomasson said in his statement that he gave the okay, the radio record (begins on page 22) does not support that and Quantrell admits in his statement that he did not get the okay to continue the pursuit (page 1389). At 03:23.16 Quantrell said “He just tried to hit my car. I have assault 1.” 

At 3:23:55 Shots fired. It only took less than 39 seconds for Quantrell to stop his car, get out of it and shoot the unarmed Jones.

At the time of the shooting Quantrell had been with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department for one year. From 2013 to 2016 he was with the Yakima Nation Tribe and from 2016 until 2018 he was with the Toppenish Police Department. Prior to his police work, he spent three years in the military in a perimeter reconnaissance unit. (page 1343)

In addition to the shooting evidence, the report has other interesting information– almost 200 pages of comments posted on Facebook regarding the shooting (page 731 to 904). The record includes posts made to the Tri- City Herald Facebook page as well as posts on other media Facebook pages in addition to those on the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office page.

Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant has given no indication as to when he will respond to the report. In 2015 he declined to bring charges against three Pasco police who fired 17 times at Antonio Zambrano-Montes who had been throwing rocks.

Richland City Council to Eliminate Term Limits for City Board Members

Richland City Hall

Correction: August 14, 2020, Of 72 members of the Richland City Council only 13 have failed to be re-elected.

Richland City Council will vote at its April 7 meeting to effectively eliminate term limits for city board members. Board members can currently serve for up to 12 years but the change will allow the council to extend their terms indefinitely.

According to Mayor Ryan Lukson in an email, “The intent was not to set an arbitrary term limit if there was someone that council felt was a valuable member of the board and wanted to continue serving. The extension would have to be approved by council of course.”

It is hard to imagine the Council telling someone who wants to serve longer than 12 years “We’re sorry but you’re not a valuable member of the board.” Therefore, board members will likely be able to serve as long as they want, reducing the chances that other residents can have the opportunity. Extensions, like other board appointments, will appear under the agenda heading “Consent Calendar”, where the topic is listed on April 7. That section includes a list of items which are not discussed, receive only one vote, and almost always pass unanimously.

In addition to providing a forum for citizens to participate in local government, Boards are usually thought of as a training ground for future council members. Limiting the number of people who can serve on the boards will reduce that pool of people.

After the extensions are approved, board members will be on equal footing with the council members who usually serve until they die or resign. Since the City of Richland was incorporated in 1958, 72 people have served on the City Council. Only 13 of those failed to be re-elected.

Compensation for Tri-Cities Council Members Has Wide Range, Trumbo in Kennewick and Thompson in Richland at the Top

Kennewick City Councilman John Trumbo Richland City Councilman Bob Thompson

Based on information obtained from Richland, Kennewick and Pasco governments, in 2019 city council member compensation had a wide range. The amount depended on whether the jurisdiction provided medical, dental and vision insurance for its members, whether the members enrolled in those programs and how many family members were covered.

In March 21, 2017 Richland City Council voted unanimously to provide 100% visual and dental coverage and 88% of the medical coverage for city council members, replacing a 2001 ordinance that allowed members access to the employee insurance program. Kennewick officials could not pinpoint when the current insurance benefit was adopted but believed that it was some time before 1984. Kennewick city council members also pay 12% of the cost of the medical insurance coverage.

Kennewick City Councilman John Trumbo collected more in base pay and medical, dental and vision insurance than any other council member in the Tri-Cities, $42,339.48. Bob Thompson collected the second highest amount for the same year, $37,862.88..

The base pay in Kennewick for 2019 was $14,700. For the city council members in Kennewick who were on the Council for all of 2019, the compensation range including base pay and medical dental and vision insurance ranged from Trumbo’s $42,339.48 to $27,332.97 for Bill McKay. Don Britain received $36,546.98; Steve Lee, $35,353.68. Paul Parish who didn’t run for re-election received $35,880.72 for a partial year. Charles Torelli, appointed to replace Matt Boehnke who was elected to the state legislature in 2018, received $11,522.48 for a partial year (he did not participate in the medical or dental program). Steve Young who died in May 2019 received $13,065.70 and his appointed replacement, Ed Frost, received $6,968.17.

Base pay for Richland City Council members was $13,920.00 in 2019. Compensation in Richland for 2019 ranged from $13,920 collected by Brad Anderson and Sandra Kent to Thompson’s $37,862.88. Michael Alvarez was the second highest compensated member of the Richland Council at $34,862; Phil Lemley third at $29,753.04; Terry Christensen and Ryan Lukson each received $15,777.84.

Base pay for Pasco City Council members was $13, 379.60. Pasco does not provide health, dental or vision insurance to its members.

For purposes of comparison Social Security, Paid Family and Medical Leave and Medicare were not considered because the three jurisdictions did not treat them the same way. Kennewick pays those and treats them as a benefit. They are subtracted from the city council compensation in Pasco. Richland did not indicate how they were treated.