Former Medina Police Chief Jeffrey Chen, fired for allegedly fixing traffic tickets and other misconduct, has plenty of supporters who believe the accusations were trumped up by a hostile city manager.
In many places, a police chief fired for allegedly fixing traffic tickets, spending city dollars for personal use, lying to investigators and destroying public records would be viewed as something other than a hero.
But in politically polarized Medina, the popular chief, Jeffrey Chen, has plenty of supporters who believe he was fired on trumped-up allegations and they want him reinstated.
Those fans laud Chen as a law-enforcement “giant” who had the same kind of personal touch as Andy Griffith in his old TV role as a small-town sheriff. They are asking the City Council to terminate the city manager who fired him.
One resident, Allison Frey, said she was “astounded” by his firing, adding: “Perhaps we should start looking for a new city manager.”
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Chen, a former Seattle police officer who was hired by the Medina Police Department in 2001 and later promoted to chief, has denied any wrongdoing and attributes his firing to a biased investigation.
The Eastside city has been in an uproar since December, when Chen resigned, then tried to rescind his resignation and was placed on administrative leave for reasons that weren’t disclosed.
City Manager Donna Hanson fired Chen last month, saying he, among other things, lied in two investigations; forged police officers’ names on memorandums voiding traffic tickets; bought gas, jackets and sneakers for personal use with city money; destroyed records; and lost the confidence of his subordinates.
Hanson declined to talk about Chen’s firing.
An officer said he was advised by Chen to “look at the bigger picture” after the officer had ticketed the spouse of a City Council candidate, the officer told investigator Ellen Lenhart, who was hired by the city. The officer said he also was urged to void a ticket given to another driver because she had recently been hospitalized.
When officers audited tickets after Chen was suspended, they concluded he had “gone behind their backs” and voided or destroyed tickets, Lenhart reported.
She also found Chen had charged the city for 100 gallons of gas while vacationing in Eastern Washington.
In 51 pages of rebuttal, Chen denied all accusations. He wrote that he destroyed no traffic tickets and that his purchases of gas, coats and running shoes were for official, not personal, use. He said two police officers who made allegations against him were under investigation by him for possibly selling police training ammunition for personal gain.
“I have, and will always, stand up for what is right, and defend my good name from lies and deliberate mischaracterizations, whether it is from the City Manager or others,” he wrote in an email to The Seattle Times.
In his detailed rebuttal of the investigations, Chen claimed Hanson was racially biased and was unhappy with him because he made it known her proposed city budget included raises for some department heads in violation of City Council policy.
Hanson did say the council had “thoroughly reviewed” her 2011 budget proposal and eliminated raises for three department heads.
One resident, Judy Sidell, told the council that instead of quietly dismissing Chen, some officials “wanted to take away his ability to provide for his family as well. They were out to destroy everything he ever worked for by attaching the label of dishonest to him to insure he could never work in law enforcement again.”
A petition signed by more than 100 people was delivered to the City Council last Monday, asking Hanson be fired and Chen rehired. The council, on a voice vote in January, rejected a motion to fire Hanson and hasn’t publicly discussed her future since.
Mayor Bret Jordan and Councilwoman Janie Lee declined to discuss Chen’s firing, citing advice from the city attorney.
Chen wrote in email that he is “heartened and gratified to know that I have the support of so many Medina and Hunts Point residents.”
The Medina Police Department serves Hunts Point under contract.
If given the opportunity to return as police chief, Chen said, he would consider coming back but “would need substantial assurance and protection from retaliation, and continued harassment.”
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org