Two Snohomish County deputies fired by the previous sheriff for dishonesty but reinstated by newly elected Sheriff Adam Fortney will remain on a county prosecutor’s list of law enforcement officers with credibility problems.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell earlier this year had placed deputies Evan Twedt and Mathew Boice on his office’s “Potential Impeachment Disclosure” (PID) list after they were fired, and said they will stay there in an email sent to Fortney earlier this month.
“Over the course of the last few weeks I have heard from more than a couple of people that deputies Boice and Twedt may have been representing to others that they are no longer on my office’s PID list,” Cornell wrote to the sheriff in a May 5 email obtained by The Seattle Times through a public-disclosure request. “That is incorrect. As you are aware, this issue was addressed in January of this year. … It is not appropriate for either deputy to be misrepresenting their status on the PID list.”
Fortney responded to Cornell’s email two days later: “Well this sounds like rumor to me but if it makes you feel better I will be happy to chat with them. I fully realize they are still on your list and I haven’t heard anything, rumors or otherwise, to the contrary.”
It is a terse exchange over a topic that has chafed the new sheriff since before his victory last November over two-term Sheriff Ty Trenary, winning a voter-approved promotion from outspoken patrol sergeant and former union president. Fortney has reinstated three deputies who were fired by Trenary — all members of Fortney’s patrol squad and supporters of his campaign — since taking office Jan. 1.
Cornell said Fortney’s actions have no bearing on his office’s findings.
“The sheriff’s decision was an administrative one and does not affect my obligations” to disclose information about the credibility of prosecution witnesses, Cornell said in a recent interview.
Nor is it the only point of friction between the two Snohomish County law enforcement officials.
Cornell has determined that the county will not pay for Fortney’s defense of a recall petition filed after the sheriff publicly refused to enforceGov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” social-distancing and closure orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Fortney, in a lengthy post on his Facebook page, questioned the accuracy of scientific models and Inslee’s leadership, concluding that the orders were unconstitutional and that his office would not enforce them. Cornell responded by saying many people looked to the sheriff for guidance and leadership and said his actions were tantamount to “yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.”
Fortney, through his public information officer Courtney O’Keefe, declined to be interviewed for this story. Boice and Twedt did not respond to requests for comment made through O’Keefe.
The county’s PID list is also known as a “Brady List,” named after the 1963 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brady vs. Maryland, which requires prosecutors to disclose to a defendant exculpatory evidence or information that might impeach the credibility of government witnesses, such as police officers.
In Boice and Twedt’s case, their testimony in any criminal case comes with a letter stating the sheriff’s office “fact-finder made a substantial finding of dishonesty or untruthfulness” regarding their role in the improper and likely illegal search of a car belonging to a man stopped for speeding and arrested for drug possession in June 2017.
The investigation showed Boice and Twedt were present when a trainee deputy opened and searched the trunk of the car as part of an “inventory” before having it towed. When they found a shotgun — the driver was a felon and not supposed to possess a firearm — they shut the trunk and assisted the trainee deputy in applying for a search warrant that did not mention they knew the gun was there.
When they “found” the weapon after obtaining the warrant, the driver was charged with illegally possessing a firearm. That charge was later dropped as part of a plea bargain, according to court records.
The incident came to light last year when a lieutenant overheard deputies recalling the incident and took it to his supervisors, who opened an investigation.
The internal investigation concluded the deputies and the trainee had colluded to cover-up the discovery of the weapon and said the search violated policy expressly prohibiting searching closed trunks without a warrant or the owner’s permission. That policy went into effect in March 2016 when the county adopted standardized policies provided through the national law-enforcement risk management company LEXIPOL.
Fortney, in a memo written as a patrol sergeant, one-time union president and sheriff’s candidate (his campaign registered with the state Public Disclosure Commission in April 2019), laid the blame for Boice and Twedt’s troubles on Trenary’s failure to train deputies on the new policies.
“I was not aware of this policy until last week,” he wrote to his lieutenant on Sept. 4, 2019. The memo, he said, was to “self-report” that he and his crew had inventoried the contents of car trunks “countless times” without being aware it was against policy or possibly illegal.
Fortney said that few if any deputies or other sergeants knew of the policy, which had been implemented without negotiation and, Fortney said, without any attempt to train the rank and file.
That memo prompted the administration to research LEXIPOL’s database and determined that all of the deputies, including Fortney, had checked boxes acknowledging they had read and understood the new policies months before the June 2017 search of the vehicle where the gun was found. Fortney implied in his letter that the administration ordered deputies to check the boxes.
Even before taking office, Fortney had said that he intended to review the firings of not just Boice and Twedt, but also the dismissal of Art Wallin, a deputy fired by Trenary after shooting and killing a 24-year-old man following a high-speed chase in October 2018. While the prosecutor’s office found the shooting of Nickolas Michael Peters legally justified, Trenary found it violated department policy and was unnecessary. Wallin was fired and the county settled a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed by Peters’ parents for $1 million.
Wallin initiated the chase in Bothell after spotting a pickup driving erratically. After several miles and speeds nearing 90 mph, the chase ended when the truck ran off the road and was rammed by another deputy. Both deputies, Wallin and Mark Stich, ordered Peters out of the vehicle as he revved the engine for several seconds. Stich jumped on top of the hood of the truck and later said he did not see a weapon. Wallin fired twice a few seconds later, saying Peters was making furtive movements that that his “spidey sense” had told him that Peters was armed.
A gun was found in a zippered case inside the truck’s console. Trenary, in dismissing Wallin, said his actions that night were “reckless.”
Fortney, who was Wallin’s supervisor the night of the pursuit, was one of the first officers on the scene and was criticized by family members for his rough handling of the dead man’s girlfriend, whom he pulled from the truck by her hair, according to court documents. Fortney was disciplined by Trenary for his role in allowing the chase to continue.
Fortney has also supervised Boice and Twedt, and has implied their discipline was retaliation for supporting Fortney. All three men supported Fortney’s campaign and Wallin’s dismissal became a campaign issue.
Within three weeks of taking office, Fortney reinstated Wallin. A week later, he rehired both Boice and Twedt. By then, however, Cornell and his chief criminal deputy had determined that both deputies should be placed on the impeachment list — a decision Fortney was quoted in The (Everett) Herald calling “outrageous” and a denial of the deputies’ due process. Placing them on the list was “basically them getting labeled a liar,” Fortney told the newspaper.