It wasn't exactly a life-threatening situation like the day a Washington State Patrol trooper stopped a hospital-bound ambulance for speeding. Nor was it as serious a public safety issue as the morning a trooper impounded a car without noticing the dead man inside.
Still, the patrol meted out a more severe disciplinary punishment last year for two troopers involved in a love affair, newly released internal-investigation documents show. The 39-year-old veteran female trooper and a 23-year-old male trooper cadet carried out a yearlong romance in patrol cars, through hundreds of text messages, and at secret get-togethers, including an apparently passionate session in a guardhouse at the governor's mansion in Olympia.
"There was some hand-holding, embracing, maybe kissing" while on duty, says WSP spokesperson Capt. Jeff DeVere, describing the affair—although the patrol suspects it went further. The trooper had been the cadet's pre-academy "coach" since 2004 and regularly performed evaluations of him as he progressed toward assignment as an official trooper. Besides officer decorum, there may have been a security issue involved when the twosome met privately inside the mansion guardbooth in February 2005.
According to investigators, the trooper had been assigned to security for the Legislature, then in session, and the cadet was helping protect the grounds of Gov. Christine Gregoire and her family's residence. He was stationed at Post 3, a guardhouse at the bottom of the governor's driveway. Other troopers on duty nearby said the two couldn't be seen inside the booth and the trooper was out of radio contact for an hour.
That meeting left the Olympia detachment buzzing and speculating, according to investigative documents from the patrol's Office of Professional Standards, which brought disciplinary charges. The cadet insisted the affair wasn't sexual—at least not while on duty. His trooper-lover, married with children, had always warned him, he told investigators, "The gun belts can never come off. We've got to draw a line as far as our . . . contact on duty."
At first denying the affair, the trooper later admitted to investigators that she had used a handheld device to send hundreds of text messages—up to 300 in one month alone—to the cadet, some described by witnesses as saying "I love you" and "I miss you." Though the trooper would later tell investigators she and her husband had the cadet over for dinner and thought of him as a son, both the trooper and cadet confirmed the romance.
It was the most talked-about case in WSP hallways since a Boy Scout got caught up in an affair between a trooper and a prostitute. In that case, the trooper was living and sharing earnings with a prostitute who was later arrested in Chicago during a sex sting (see "Dating for DNA," May 19, 2004). The latest affair, which came to an official conclusion in December, resulted in a pay cut and a month's suspension for the trooper. She is no longer allowed to have riders in her vehicle except when duty requires. The cadet resigned, costing him the opportunity to become a commissioned trooper. "It was an inappropriate relationship," says DeVere, "and we took swift and appropriate action to make sure it doesn't happen again."
In the ambulance-stop case, a Tacoma trooper earned a reprimand for pulling over an AMR ambulance on Interstate 5 for doing 75 mph in a 60 mph zone. The ambulance driver said she wasn't using her emergency lights because traffic was light and flowing. But the trooper insisted on writing a ticket and making the crew wait with their cardiac patient, who, though experiencing chest pains, survived.
In the impound case, an Everett trooper was handed a one-day suspension for failing to thoroughly check a damaged van before having it removed from Interstate 405. The parked van had been struck by another vehicle whose driver had fallen asleep. He was injured and hospitalized. After the van was taken to a tow yard, relatives began inquiring about the owner's whereabouts. The body was discovered inside the van at the tow yard about 17 hours later. An autopsy later determined he died of blunt impact injuries caused by the accident; it was unclear if he died instantly.
In other WSP disciplinary news:
• A Spokane-area trooper received a written reprimand for unbecoming conduct after stopping a disabled driver—he had no hands and was steering with two hooks—who had dropped a cigarette out the car window as the trooper approached. The trooper admits she made the man move his car and then get out and pick up the cigarette, which had fallen under a tire, but denied calling the man "a goddamn fucking shithead."
• A Bellingham-area trooper received a three-day suspension for releasing, rather than detaining, a DUI suspect who offered to reward him with a meal of Indian fry bread. The trooper denied ever receiving the meal.
• An Everett-area trooper was suspended four days for drinking, wearing a black wig, and handing out his WSP business card to security personnel at a White River Amphitheatre concert as he tried to gain entrée for "young ladies" to the beer garden. Mötley Crüe was the featured band.