Squabble or Scandal? The Police, the Mayor, and the City Attorney
The Kitsap Sun published a long and deeply disturbing article (1/15/2023) that throws light on the rather sudden departure of Alexis Foster, Poulsbo’s prosecutor for over six years, from city government.
Andrew Binion, the author, begins with the headline: Poulsbo prosecutor quits, says she was pressured to cover up officer’s false statement.
The sub-heading: Foster, who is Black, suspects a racist motive, as white county prosecutors made the same decision and did not face the wrath of the police and Mayor Becky Erickson.
More info from Binion’s article:
Foster “resigned in October when the city’s police officers' union took a no-confidence vote in her after she disclosed that a detective filed a document in court containing false information.”
“Foster said the pushback from police officers…, joined by the mayor and police chief, was meant to punish her for taking official notice of flawed documents signed under the penalty of perjury and filed 3/7/22 in Kitsap Superior Court by officer Erik Peffer.”
“It was not the kind of error that would typically end a police officer’s career… Despite the relatively low stakes, the blowback against Foster was strong and sustained, resulting in [the] veteran law enforcement attorney quitting and the city losing its own prosecutor’s office.”
“Mayor Becky Erickson and police chief Ron Harding sided with the police union against Foster, with Harding lobbying Foster to not report Peffer. […] Erickson wrote… that she sided with the police because she believed Peffer’s false statement in court was not intentional.”
Foster said she “‘resigned because it was no longer tenable for me to do my job, to do it to the fullest extent of my abilities. It became a hostile work environment and my hands were being tied in retaliation for following my ethical obligations.”
“The reaction from police and Erickson suggested a racist motive, with Foster noting that County Prosecutor Chad Enright, who is white, took the same action as she did regarding Peffer,” and, as Foster commented, no one voted no-confidence against Enright.
As Foster gave the Mayor notice of her resignation, she “raised the issue of racism, which angered Erickson, who yelled at her, ‘I’m not racist. I hired you before BLM [Black Lives Matter] was even a thing.’”
Readers are encouraged to get the details of the whole story in the Sun. What we’d like to do here is make some observations and comments.
Observations and Comment
First, Prosecutor Foster had both legal and ethical obligations. She couldn’t sweep the inaccuracies/falsehoods under the rug, despite the pressures on her to do so. The pressure campaign against her by her own Mayor and police department left her no alternative but to resign.
Second, one of Mayor Erickson’s arguments is that officer Peffer’s misstatement was not intentional, so it should be excused. (The incident involved the seizure of a gun from a household; Peffer had the resident’s safety and health in mind, and we appreciate him for that.) But it has consequences. The misstatements in the affidavit, signed by officer Peffer as a legal document, could influence a judge’s decision on the case.
The incident points to larger issues.
(1) Small-town culture vs. law.
City government seems to say: Peffer means well, he’s one of us, our Poulsbo family—why cause trouble for him? Small-town culture values friendly group or family relationships over the impersonal strictness of law. It’s the culture not only of small towns, but sports teams, military platoons, and crime syndicates. It values the cohesive in-group; the outsider might be welcome, but becomes the enemy when any conflict arises.
The United States is a nation of law, and when people start forgetting that, we’re in ever greater trouble.
Where was Poulsbo’s City Council in all this? We have no information.
It would have been so simple for the Mayor to be a leader, to firmly tell the police union and police chief to get over it and to live by the law. Poulsbo government does well with festivals, utilities management, and so forth, but when it comes to issues that are genuinely hard to deal with, the default seems to be to blame someone else and look the other way. Poulsbo’s ongoing vacuum of leadership in interpersonal and social relations includes council members who may be sympathetic, but are equally missing in action.
(2) Unthinking racism.
The message of the pressure campaign was: Alexis, you can be one of us, in our family, if you try hard and suspend your ethical and legal obligations. According to Foster, the Mayor literally told her, “I’m not racist. After all, I hired you before BLM was a thing!”
The Mayor’s and police force’s antipathy toward Foster again shows the lack of understanding of racism and the need to implement the tools the City already has at hand. Two years ago the City joined GARE, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, but they have done absolutely nothing to take advantages of GARE’s resources and make change. It is past time for an equity assessment of City government.
How can Alexis Foster and her Black family possibly remain in Poulsbo? Put yourself in her shoes, and imagine needing to call the police some night. Imagine how utterly daunting it is to be a person of color simply trying to live and work in Poulsbo.
(3) What effect will this conflict have on public confidence in policing?
Police are, literally, law enforcement, and when that idea starts to crumble for any reason, citizens are in trouble. Police and city leaders are public servants whose salaries we pay for with our taxes. We expect our public servants to act with integrity, goodwill, and competence.
On the national level we see on a near daily basis the horrors that can result from racism in policing and lapses in ethical standards. We must hold Chief Harding to maintain the highest standards of policing and of enforcing the law.
Poulsbo for All apologizes to you, Alexis Foster, for receiving such shameful treatment from the City of Poulsbo. We find it deeply ironic that while the Detective Peffer would not have lost his job in any case, you had to forfeit your job because you were harassed by your own colleagues for doing it correctly.
Readers’ comments regarding this incident may be sent to:
Mayor firstname.lastname@example.org , Councilors email@example.com , and Police Chief firstname.lastname@example.org .
Bearing incidents like this in mind, Poulsbo for All is bringing to public attention that this coming year, four City Council seats will be up for election. It’s time for better and more transparent leadership, and for a diverse range of representation on the Council, because we all want to see Poulsbo succeed for everyone. Please contact us through our website (PoulsboForAll.com) or Facebook page if you want more information about being an elected official, wish to run for City Council, or volunteer to work for candidates.