WARNING: Both videos included in the story contain strong language.
MOSES LAKE - A rare Moses Lake Civil Service Commission hearing was held Tuesday as a Moses Lake police officer faces possible disciplinary action stemming from a March incident.
The hearing was held to review disciplinary action against officer Rick Francis in connection to a March 9, 2019 incident where Francis was previously disciplined with an unpaid day off. Tuesday’s hearing was part of Francis’ appeal of the discipline.
Chief Kevin Fuhr told iFIBER ONE News that Francis violated the department’s code of ethics and standards of conduct, specifically with use of force and firearm handling and use of obscene and derogatory language during the March 9 interaction with a vehicle prowl suspect.
The Civil Service Commission has up to 30 days to come to a decision on Francis’ discipline. Fuhr said if the commission sides with the city, disciplinary action will be taken. If the commission sides with Francis, Fuhr said the department will see if any policy or procedures need to be changed. Tuesday’s civil service hearing was the first in Moses Lake since 2015 when an officer appealed his termination.
“Generally you don’t see this action for a single day off,” Fuhr said. Civil Service hearings are typically conducted for officers trying to save their job, Fuhr added.
Francis was responding the night of March 9 to reports of a suspect hiding in bushes and other areas while possibly breaking into cars. Francis was the first officer on scene and approached a parked pickup truck where he found the suspect inside. At this point, two other officers are also on scene.
Body cam video shows Francis knock on the truck door and say, “Open the (expletive) door, show me your hands.”
Francis instructs the suspect to lie on the ground. Francis tells the suspect not to reach for his pockets. Video shows the suspect pulling his pants up when Francis says, “Don’t reach for stuff, are you stupid?”
“It almost seemed like (Francis) was out of control,” Fuhr said.
The suspect then moves his hands toward the front pocket in his jacket before Francis takes the suspect to the ground, holding a flashlight in his left hand and handgun in the other hand. Francis said his tactics at the time were “what he needed to do.” In a residential neighborhood, Francis said he was close to the suspect in case he was armed. Francis said he was concerned if shots were fired, especially at a distance had he backed off, a stray bullet may hit a home.
Francis says he tried to holster his firearm while straddling the suspect on the ground but the gun came “out of battery,” or malfunctioned. Body cam video shows Francis’ gun directed at the suspect’s back as he attempted to clear the firearm while straddling the suspect.
“We are not trained to go hands on with somebody with a firearm in our hand,” Fuhr said. “This is not acceptable behavior. He had options. He had two officers with him.”
Fuhr said the gun could have accidentally discharged while Francis was straddling the suspect. Fuhr said Francis should have never gone hands-on while he had his pistol in his hand. Officers are trained to stay back and give verbal commands to the suspect to lie down, allowing an officer to handcuff the suspect while at least one other officer has a gun drawn on the suspect.
After the suspect is handcuffed, Francis walks away and cleared his firearm. Body cam video shows Francis pointing the gun in the direction of another officer while clearing the firearm.
Fuhr said Francis’ actions with his firearm are the main concern related to his disciplinary actions.
Francis returns to the suspect to retrieve the man’s ID, which was in the pickup truck. The suspect asks Francis if he can grab the ID and Francis responds with “No, because you’re in handcuffs, dummy,” Police say Francis entered the pickup truck without the suspect’s consent and without a search warrant to retrieve the ID.
Francis was previously disciplined for a December 2018 incident involving a juvenile. Fuhr said Francis and two other officers responded at the request of a parent to talk to their son who had been making threats to gang members online.
Fuhr said Francis gave the boy a “lengthy speech” about his behavior but at one point, Francis unholstered his firearm, took a couple steps toward the boy and held the gun out and told him take the gun “if you want to be a tough guy,” according to Fuhr.
“It was a warning enough that a very young, new officer in the room with him reported it to a sergeant because he was worried an officer had approached this kid, with a firearm in his hand, and offered to give the firearm to the kid, which put the kid, the officers and the mom in jeopardy,” Fuhr said.
Francis did not appeal the disciplinary action for the December incident. Francis said the latest disciplinary action was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Francis says he has no plans on resigning but coming forward with the claims effectively “ends his career” with the Moses Lake Police Department, hinting he believes his superiors would attempt to retaliate or have a grudge against him.
Francis told iFIBER ONE News the department has a “double-standard” when it comes to enforcing its code of ethics and core values, calling it a department of “haves and have-nots” and inequality exists within the department, citing favoritism toward the K9 unit and street crimes unit.
Fuhr denied those claims, and said another officer was disciplined in 2018 for similar conduct and he was given three unpaid days off, reduced to two days, and mandatory training. Fuhr said he was lenient with Francis and should have handed down a week of unpaid leave for the March incident.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Francis claimed foul language is often used by other officers in the department during incidents and in the office. He specifically noted a video, published on iFIBER ONE News and shared by the police department on Facebook, involving officer Brad Zook and K9 Rex. In the video, Rex was able to capture a fleeing suspect but the suspect escaped the bite. As the suspect stands up to run, Zook yells “get on the (expletive) ground.”
But Fuhr said Zook appeared in control, giving commands and swearing as the suspect got away. Once the suspect was in custody, Fuhr said Zook “amped it down” and continued to give commands while remaining calm.
“It’s not the same,” Fuhr said, adding Francis started off the March confrontation by cursing and calling the suspect a “dummy” and “stupid,” language directed personally at the suspect and not to get the suspect’s attention.
Fuhr said after Francis brought up the issue with the use of language, the department did an audit, pulling five random body cam videos from every officer in the department. Fuhr said they did not find any other officers conducting themselves the same way Francis did.
Francis also claims to have issues with the department administration, including a longstanding matter with Capt. Mike Williams dating back to 2011.
In April 2018, Francis handed Chief Fuhr a resignation letter in which he states there are “matters within the organization” affecting him and other officers.
Fuhr said he spoke with Francis about his concerns and arranged for Williams and Francis to meet and resolve the issue. Fuhr said the two met and it was believed the issue was resolved.
“Since that time, Rick and I have had meals together, we’ve had coffee together, we’ve had personal conversations in my office and never again was this mentioned until I met with him during this disciplinary meeting,” Fuhr said.
Francis told iFIBER One News that Fuhr had essentially told him he could quit if he didn’t like the situation.
“He wasn’t told to quit,” Fuhr said, adding he reminded Francis of his letter of resignation and that he could seek employment elsewhere if he still felt the same way. Francis responded to iFIBER ONE News by calling Fuhr a “damn liar.”
Francis also brought up what he believed were inappropriate pictures posted at the police department, including a set of pictures of wanted suspects for the street crimes unit, where bars were drawn over the pictures of captured suspects.
Fuhr said he saw no issue with the street crimes photographs. Fuhr did admit there was one picture in the office that could be considered offensive. Fuhr has since given direction to remove all pictures in the department that could be considered offensive.
Francis represented himself during Tuesday’s hearing, instead of going through the police guild, which could have provided legal counsel for the hearing. Francis said he didn’t want to put the guild in the middle of the situation and said many members of the guild are close with department administrators.