Prosecutors outlined part of their case Monday against a former Pasco police sergeant on trial for allegedly trying to solicit a prostitute and lying to investigators.
In an opening statement that kicked off the trial in Franklin County, Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn told the jury that Zachary J. Fairley lied several times to investigators to cover up his contact with the suspected prostitute.
More than a dozen text messages between Fairley and a woman who posted an online ad posing as an escort leave no doubt the former cop was trying to solicit sex, Hultgrenn said in court.
Fairley was fired from the department in 2014.
“Just like anyone else, I’m asking that you hold the defendant accountable,” Hultgrenn said.
Defense attorney Etoy Alford told the jury that evidence will show officers within the department were biased toward Fairley, and the text messages may be related to a prostitution investigation his client was overseeing.
Police became aware of the text messages during an investigation into bomb threats made against Columbia Basin College in Pasco, according to court documents. Records showed Fairley’s personal cellphone exchanged text messages with the number used to call in the threats.
The phone used to make the threats was connected to Steven E. Brown, who was eventually sentenced to two years in prison in the case.
Hours before the threats were called in, Brown’s daughter was using his phone to post ads on a section of Backpage.com, a website used for prostitution, Hultgrenn said. The woman apparently exchanged texts with several people negotiating sex.
Fairley allegedly exchanged 17 text messages with the woman, though it doesn’t appear a meeting took place, court documents and prosecutors said.
“The messages exchanged appear to indicate negotiations for a meeting at a local motel for an illicit encounter,” wrote Sgt. Matt Woods with the Walla Walla Police Department, the agency that investigated Fairley’s case.
When Pasco police discovered Fairley’s number was among those that contacted Brown’s phone, officials with the department asked Detective Tony Aceves to interview Fairley.
Aceves testified Monday that Fairley denied knowing who the number belonged to and that family visiting from California may have had contact with the number.
Aceves told the jury that it was odd Fairley would say that ,considering the text messages were sent during the early-morning hours when Fairley, who was on the graveyard shift, was working and likely had his phone.
However, Aceves said Fairley was not the target of the investigation and he didn’t suspect his fellow officer was lying.
“I had no reason to believe (any) malice was going on,” he said in court.
Fairley has told investigators that his phone received blank texts, though no texts matching that description were found during the criminal investigation.
Aceves was one of two Pasco police officers to testify during the first day of the trial, which is scheduled to last the rest of the week. Hultgrenn is expected to call some of the highest-ranking officers in the department, including Chief Bob Metzger and Capt. Ken Roske.
Fairley was placed on paid administrative leave months after the alleged text messages were discovered.
Before being put on leave, he was demoted from sergeant after it was discovered that he was part of a group of fellow Pasco SWAT officers who exchanged racist, homophobic and inappropriate text messages.
The texts ridiculed other members of the department for their appearance and sexual preferences. One officer resigned and two others were suspended.
Fairley was also accused of sending nude pictures to two Franklin County dispatchers while he was a police officer.
Fairley filed a complaint with human resources after the investigation into the text messages started, 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.