Wash. chief's off-duty conduct questioned

Did DuPont chief break policy?: Two agencies to investigate his involvement in Thurston incident
By Rob Tucker
The Tacoma News Tribune 

TACOMA, Wash. — DuPont Police Chief Michael Pohl might have violated his department's code of conduct during an early morning struggle last week at a Thurston County residence.

Sheriff's Lt. Chris Mealy said Thurston County deputies responding to a noise complaint found eight people at the residence "in various stages of intoxication. One was Michael Pohl."

The longtime police chief of the south Pierce County city was transported to an Olympia hospital with facial injuries.

In the DuPont Police Department's policy and procedure manual, code of conduct section 16.1.10 says: "Members, while off-duty, shall refrain from consuming intoxicating beverages to the extent that it results in impairment, intoxication, obnoxious or offensive behavior."

A final determination will come after the Sheriff's Department concludes its criminal investigation. Then Lakewood police, at the request of the City of DuPont, will conduct an internal investigation to decide whether Pohl violated department policies.

Pohl, 49, said he did nothing illegal.

"I didn't do anything," he said when contacted by a reporter this week. "I was attacked."

He declined to say more until Thurston County completes its part of the investigation.

What will happen to Pohl, if anything, won't be decided until both investigations are done, said Mayor Steve Young.

"I don't know who's at fault at this point," he said.

Pohl, who has been DuPont chief for 211/2 years, was put on paid administrative leave. DuPont police Sgt. Mike Cummings is in charge in Pohl's absence.

Mealy said sheriff's deputies responded at 12:46 a.m. Nov. 9 to a neighbor's complaint about yelling and other noise at a residence in the county northeast of Lacey.

Deputies found Pohl injured, and he was transported to Providence St. Peter Hospital, Mealy said. A city official said Pohl suffered no major injuries.

Mealy said no guns were involved. He said deputies determined that all eight individuals were drinking at a pub just off Interstate 5 in the Nisqually River Valley and had moved to the residence in the 8500 block of 48th Street Northeast.

DuPont city administrator Bill McDonald called the incident "unfortunate."

He said the internal investigation likely will center on whether Pohl committed a criminal offense, or if he violated the department's code on use of alcohol, or if he engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer.

Pohl was off-duty at the time.

Under 16.1.02, the code says an officer cannot engage in "unbecoming conduct," which includes "That which tends to bring this department into disrepute, reflects discredit on any member, or which tends to impair the operation and efficiency of the department."

Eight years ago, Pohl narrowly avoided a similar situation at an Ocean Shores bar. A pushing-and-shoving match flared up between local residents and off-duty police officers, including the chiefs of the Lakewood and University Place sheriff's detachments. The chiefs, including Pohl, were in town for the annual convention of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

As tension at the bar escalated, several officers, including Pohl, left and avoided the ruckus. Local authorities investigated Lakewood chief Larry Saunders and University Place chief Pete Carder and a King County officer but filed no charges.

Both chiefs later were suspended without pay for 15 days by the Pierce County sheriff after an internal investigation found they violated department policy on off-duty drinking.

The county policy is similar to DuPont's.

Copyright 2007 The Tacoma News Tribune 

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