Pasco police sergeant put on leave

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldApril 1, 2014 

A Pasco police sergeant is on paid leave while fighting allegations that he lied about why his number was on a cellphone used to make bomb threats against Columbia Basin College.

An investigation revealed that Zachary James Fairley allegedly was text messaging with the bomb suspect's adult daughter just hours before the threats were made.

Police recognized the officer's number after getting a court order for all records associated with the phone number used to make the threats as they tried to identify the suspect.

When asked about the communication, Fairley denied knowing the number or calling the suspect's phone, but claimed he'd received blank text messages. He told detectives that he had family visiting from California at the time and maybe someone else used his phone early July 18, court documents said.

The investigation by Walla Walla police Sgt. Matt Wood does not connect Fairley to the bomb threats, which shut down the Pasco and Richland campuses for most of the day.

Steven E. Brown was arrested almost a week after the threats once police linked the phone number to him. He is awaiting trial in federal court.

Franklin County District Court documents suggested Fairley could have had a personal relationship with Brown's daughter, based on some of the texts. The phone belonged to Brown, but detectives believe his daughter, Tricia, was using it.

Fairley, 32, who is married, is charged in District Court with one count of making false or misleading statements to a public servant, a gross misdemeanor.

He has pleaded innocent to the charge.

Fairley -- who goes by Zach -- was not arrested. He is scheduled to return to court April 16. A trial date has not yet been set.

Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger told the Herald on Tuesday that Fairley was placed on leave in January, about the same time Metzger and Capt. Jim Raymond made a request for an independent investigation into the possible false statements.

Metzger told the Herald that his department reviewed the case in December, then had a Benton County sheriff's detective do a forensic exam on Brown's phone. They found texts with "substance in them," though the chief would not comment on the nature of the messages.

"When we found out there was possible criminal charges we turned the investigation over to Walla Walla," Metzger said.

The break in the bomb threats case reportedly came when police tracked down the phone number of a call that came into CBC about the time the first threat was made.

A CBC employee took a call at 11:23 a.m. from a "middle-aged" man who warned about a bomb in a specific building.

Cellphone company records showed the same number was used to call in a threat 22 minutes later to Townsquare Media in Pasco, but that number was blocked.

It was while reviewing those records that Fairley's number popped up.

After his initial denial, Fairley was instructed by a supervisor to give a written explanation of why his number was on Brown's phone records from midnight to 3 a.m. July 18, court documents said.

Some of the 17 messages reportedly "have been lost," though they're not all blank or empty as Fairley claimed, documents said.

Wood concluded that Brown's daughter, who sometimes stays at his Finley home, was using his phone to text with the officer.

Fairley has been with the department for six years, and is a former SWAT team member. He was promoted to sergeant in January 2013.

Fairley was accused in 2009 of racial profiling and using excessive force when he and another officer detained a Pasco woman as she walked home from work.

The woman sued the police department and reached a $100,000 settlement in 2013 because she received second-degree burns and other injuries when shoved onto the hot hood of a police car.

-- Staff writer Tyler Richardson contributed to this report.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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