Pasco officer already on leave could face new criminal charges

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldMay 2, 2014 

Pasco Police Promotion

Zach Fairley of the Pasco Police Department

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A Pasco police officer on administrative leave for lying to investigators is facing possible new charges that he tried to solicit a suspected prostitute.

A Herald review of hundreds of police department documents and text messages show Zachary Fairley also was demoted from sergeant for sending nude pictures to county dispatchers and group texting derogatory comments about co-workers.

Police department records show Fairley isn't the only Pasco officer in trouble for inappropriate text messaging.

An internal investigation found four officers formerly assigned to the Tri-Cities Regional SWAT Team exchanged racist, homophobic or inappropriate text messages, documents show.

The texts ridiculed other members of the Pasco Police Department for their appearance, sexual preferences and other characteristics.

As a result, Fairley was demoted, Officer Scott Orate resigned and officers Steve Thatsana and Dean Perry each were suspended for one day, police officials said.

Fairley, a Pasco officer for more than six years, was promoted to sergeant in early 2013 and supervised the Pasco members of the SWAT team. He could not be reached through his attorney about the allegations.

After an internal investigation discovered the messages, Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger disciplined the officers and reorganized his assignments to the SWAT team.

"The community should know, if it is wrong we are going to deal with it," Metzger said. "The police department does not cover up for conduct that is inappropriate."

Officer on paid leave

Fairley, 32, remains on paid leave after being charged in February with a gross misdemeanor for allegedly lying to investigators who were looking into why his phone was in contact with the cellphone used to make bomb threats against Columbia Basin College.

A forensic investigation found 17 text messages between Fairley's cellphone and bomb threat suspect Steven E. Brown's phone just hours before bomb threats were made and the campus evacuated.

Fairley denied calling Brown and told investigators he received blank text messages from a number he didn't recognize.

His phone showed he texted Brown's phone in response to an online advertisement for female escorts, documents said. Police believe the ad was posted by Brown's adult daughter from his phone.

The criminal case was investigated by the Walla Walla Police Department.

"The messages exchanged appear to indicate negotiations for a meeting at a local motel for an illicit encounter," wrote Walla Walla Sgt. Matt Woods.

It's unknown if Fairley ever met with the person he was texting, police officials said.

Fairley refused to be interviewed by investigators about the messages, investigators said. And the criminal investigation found no blank texts between the phones.

Fairley's supervisors at the Pasco Police Department said he was not on duty when the messages were sent from his personal cellphone.

The case was forwarded to the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office for a possible criminal charge of patronizing a prostitute, a misdemeanor offense.

Prosecutor Shawn Sant said he has reviewed the case and might file charges as early as next week. He told the Herald he expects to file if Fairley does not plead guilty in his other criminal case.

Metzger said Fairley will remain on paid leave pending the outcome of the department's internal investigation.

Inappropriate photos allegedly sent

Fairley found himself in more trouble within the department when two Franklin County dispatchers told investigators Fairley had sent them pictures of male genitalia through Facebook messaging, documents said. One dispatcher said Fairley sent the pictures while he was on duty.

Fairley admitted to sending the pictures, but claimed he got them off the Internet and sent them to the dispatchers as a joke.

"(A dispatcher) said they talked on Facebook Messenger on a very frequent basis," the internal report says. "She said it may not have been every night, but it seemed like it was. All the conversations happened at night and she knew the ones of sexual nature occurred while he was on duty."

Those photos were discovered when a Pasco police captain and sergeant were conducting an internal investigation into allegations that the Pasco SWAT team members were sending inappropriate group texts.

The Herald obtained more than 1,500 texts the former SWAT team members sent each other.

The six SWAT officers exchanged texts from their personal cellphones while on and off duty in the span of at least a month last year, documents said.

The officers used the group text system to talk about SWAT and department-related issues, as well as personal things.

The four members who faced discipline from the department were accused of creating a hostile work environment and harassing co-workers, documents show.

One incident was on Aug. 28, when an officer texted the group asking if anybody wanted to meet for coffee.

Officer Scott Orate, who is Caucasian, texted back, "However, as today is the 50th anniversary of (Martin Luther King Jr's) 'I Have a Drea' speech, I will have a white drink."

Fairley, who is Pasco's only black officer, texted back: "F*** MLK."

He continued: "I say f*** white (people) as a whole, Asians, Mexicans and blacks!"

Orate responded: "I like how this racist ass convo started with Steve offering coffee," documents said.

Many other text messages used explicit language and were of a sexual nature too graphic to repeat even in an edited form in the newspaper. Some routinely made jokes and comments about a Pasco officer they believe is gay.

The officers told investigators they believed the messages were private. They said they never would have made some of the comments if they had known the texts could be made public.

Metzger explained, "You hold a police officer to a higher level of accountability and culpability. If this were some high school buddies from a frat, it may be appropriate. But it is very inappropriate for police officers who are at a higher level of integrity."

Thatsana and Perry are appealing their suspensions.

Complaint filed

Shortly after Fairley received notice that he was being investigated by internal affairs, he filed a complaint with the human resources office, accusing co-workers of sexual harassment, harassment and racial discrimination.

He said officers sent him racist pictures and made racist remarks. He also accused department officials of investigating him as a form of retaliation.

Fairley claimed he got an email with a picture of a black couple with shackles on and a handwritten message that said, "Don't forget your BLING when you get promoted." He also said he received "blackface" pictures and was referred to as the "token black guy," documents said.

"(Fairley) generally reported that 'over the years' he has been subjected to offensive and hurtful communications by some of his co-workers based on his race," an investigation report said.

Fairley was accused of racial profiling and using excessive force in 2009 when a woman alleged that her face was slammed onto the hood of a hot car. The city paid the woman $100,000 to settle the suit.

Many co-workers denied Fairley's claims of harassment or racial discrimination, documents said.

An investigator found that banter involving race is "commonplace" within the department, but it is generally meant to be "good-natured." Metzger admitted there's banter among officers but denied it's racially motivated.

However, some of the photos and the "token black guy" comment reported by Fairley crossed the line, documents said.

"The investigator finds these to be mean-spirited and distinguishable from the type of widespread and readily accepted banter that reportedly occurs in the workplace," said the human resources report.

Pasco police officials said they are limited in what they can discuss about the ongoing internal investigation.

Fairley is set to go to trial in June in Benton County District Court on the misdemeanor charge of making false or misleading statements to a public servant.

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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