The firing of Officer Ernest Hall ended a 31-year career in which he repeatedly found himself in hot water, only to survive in part because of his deep connections in the department.
A veteran Seattle police officer with a checkered work history has been fired for dishonesty after he concocted a story that his misplaced gun and other items were stolen and then returned with the help of criminal figures.
The officer, Ernest Hall, was terminated Monday by Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, ending a 31-year career in which he repeatedly found himself in hot water, only to survive, in part, because of his deep connections in the department.
Hall reported to Kirkland police Oct. 3 that a bag containing his service pistol, ammunition, handcuffs and police radio were missing from a truck he had parked overnight outside his home.
When contacted by a detective, Hall said he had recovered the items through his contacts in the “criminal element,” according to Kirkland police records.
Kirkland police alerted Seattle police, which opened an internal investigation in which Hall said he found the bag under a pile of clothes in his laundry room shortly after filing his initial report but never told Kirkland police because he felt “stupid” telling that to another cop.
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In written findings, O’Toole found Hall provided false and misleading statements to Kirkland police, violating department policy, the law and his obligations as an officer.
“Your suggestion that Kirkland PD’s investigation of a reported crime … should have simply ended upon learning that the purportedly stolen items were recovered is confounding; after thirty years of police work, you cannot credibly believe that it is not material to a criminal investigation” that no crime had occurred, O’Toole wrote.
O’Toole, citing a pattern of flouting rules, also found that Hall failed to check the condition of his in-car video system for October and worked two off-duty jobs throughout 2014 without department permission.
Hall, 57, declined to comment Wednesday. His attorney, Eric John Makus, issued a statement, saying, “Ernest Hall has dedicated 30 years of police service to Seattle. Chief O’Toole terminated him on a single unproven and uncorroborated allegation of a disputed phone call he had with a Kirkland police officer.
“Terminating officer Hall, without clear and convincing evidence, is a declaration of war by the Chief of Police on the membership of the patrol officers of the Seattle Police Department,” Makus said, adding Hall refused to admit to something he didn’t do.
Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, said an appeal will be filed to an arbitration panel.
“ I am very disappointed that Chief O’Toole has made this disciplinary decision,” Smith said in a statement. He criticized the department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which conducted the internal investigation, for basing its findings on what he said was a preponderance of the evidence instead of clear proof.
Hall, in his initial report to Kirkland police, said the missing items were on a duty belt inside the bag, which he said he had brought home for an off-duty job in the morning and forgot in his truck.
Four days later, a Kirkland detective called Hall to get the radio serial number.
“My call seemed to catch Ernest off guard or he simply wasn’t prepared to immediately talk to anyone on the phone,” the detective wrote, “ because he responded to my introduction by saying something similar to, if not exactly, ‘uuummm I got my stuff back, so it’s all good.’ ”
The detective noted Hall gave halting answers, requiring “exhaustive” questioning.
Hall said he “put his feelers out with people in the know,” the detective wrote.
Pressed for more information, Hall seemed somewhat exasperated and sighed heavily before explaining he had worked in downtown Seattle for a long time and knew people involved in the “criminal element” whom he alerted to his missing equipment, the detective wrote.
Hall told the detective while working at The Moore Theatre on Oct. 6, a guy who usually asks him for money and “knows a lot of people” agreed to help retrieve his bag.
“Ernest’s explanation to me became even more vague as he continued by telling me that ‘a drop’ was set up,” the detective wrote, adding Hall said the bag was “left somewhere” and he retrieved it.
Hall has previously faced allegations of making false statements. Internal investigators concluded he worked off-duty at a prohibited music event in 2004 despite Hall’s claim he went to visit a friend working as a security guard.
Then-police Chief Gil Kerlikowske gave Hall the benefit of the doubt, although three Seattle firefighters said they saw Hall working at the event. Hall also benefitted from the backing of his captain and an assistant chief, now both gone from the department, who had worked closely with Hall early in their careers.
A 2005 Seattle Times investigation into Seattle police officers improperly working off-duty security jobs at nightclubs and bars quoted Hall as saying he was unsure if he had violated department rules.
“I haven’t looked at the manual for a while,” said Hall, whose personnel file at the time listed nine disciplinary actions, three related to off-duty work, including one for using unnecessary force.