Officer not punished for ‘inappropriate’ advice

Officer did not violate any department polices, Pullman Police chief says

Kamie+Ethridge+coaches+the+WSU+women%E2%80%99s+basketball+team+on+Feb.+2%2C+2020.+A+police+officer+fined+Ethridge+%24150+for+a+gathering+without+masks+or+social+distancing+in+her+driveway.+The+officer+said+it+is+best+to+keep+gatherings+%E2%80%9Cout+of+sight%2C+out+of+mind.%E2%80%9D

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Kamie Ethridge coaches the WSU women’s basketball team on Feb. 2, 2020. A police officer fined Ethridge $150 for a gathering without masks or social distancing in her driveway. The officer said it is best to keep gatherings “out of sight, out of mind.”

LOREN NEGRON, Evergreen reporter

The Pullman Police Department decided to not discipline an officer who suggested people stay “out of sight, out of mind” during a large gathering that occurred last month on a WSU coach’s property.

Officer Garrett Willis fined Kamie Ethridge, head coach for WSU women’s basketball team, on Aug. 28 for violating public health orders. More than 10 people were in her driveway, and they were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing, according to a Whitman County Watch article.

In the body-worn camera video, Willis said Pullman PD has directed officers to write tickets to those who are not following public health orders.

Contrary to that, Willis suggested to party attendees that they hold their gatherings inside or in their backyard to prevent receiving an infraction.

“I’m going to give you the same advice I give everybody else,” Willis said in the footage. “We’re pretty much in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the community and stuff like that. Really the key is out of sight, out of mind.”

Willis fined Ethridge a $150 nuisance party infraction, according to the Whitman County Watch article. Ethridge did not host the event. However, the nuisance party ordinance prohibits individuals from hosting or allowing gatherings that violate public health orders.

Pullman PD was made aware of the footage after a journalist requested that particular video, said Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins. That was the first time Jenkins said he watched the video.

“Our supervisory and management staff have been looking at random body-worn camera videos of enforcement of the ordinance, and we had not seen that type of messaging in the other calls,” he said.

Jenkins said Willis’ message in the video was “inappropriate.” After finding out about the footage, Jenkins sent an email to his staff, communicating that their goal is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community by enforcing the nuisance party ordinance.

“Giving advice about how to avoid detection or circumvent enforcement of the ordinance is counterproductive to our ultimate goal,” he said.

Willis was not subjected to discipline, Jenkins said, because he did not violate any of Pullman PD’s policies.

When issuing nuisance party infractions, officers inform individuals of what the ordinance is, what the infraction entails and how they can handle their fine, he said.

People can pay their fines in court. They can also plead not guilty and have a hearing. Jenkins said people can engage in a mitigation hearing where they plead guilty and communicate the circumstances they would like the judge to consider.

Jenkins said an additional provision in the ordinance that allows police officers to issue infractions to both partygoers and attendees took effect on Sept. 24. 

“What caused that change [in the ordinance] is that we were observing that partygoers were getting on their cellphones and via Venmo sending money to the hosts to help pay for the fine,” he said. “In some cases, hosts were collecting donations to help pay for the fine.” 

As of Sept. 25, Pullman PD has issued 23 infractions. Jenkins said his department is seeing a decrease in violations since they started enforcing the ordinance.

WSU PD has not issued any nuisance party infractions. This is mostly due to the lack of activity on campus, said WSU Police Chief Bill Gardner.

“We haven’t had parties on campus because there are so few people who are living actually on campus,” he said. “Most of the activities have been off campus.”

Gardner said WSU PD sometimes receives calls asking officers to check if people are following public health orders, like wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

WSU PD’s focus is on educating the community and gaining compliance through non-citation measures, he said.

“[Officers] can use the nuisance party ordinance if they’d like to,” Gardner said, “but they haven’t run into anything where it’s been necessary.”