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05-01-06, 07:09 PM #1
Seattle PD disciplines officer for shooting at his stolen patrol car
Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske has found that an officer violated department rules when he fired three shots at a woman who commandeered a patrol car and drove away.
Kerlikowske suspended the officer, Harold Dentinger, for five days without pay but won't impose the penalty if the officer avoids similar misconduct for three years.
The chief's April 3 decision was revealed under a public-disclosure request filed by The Seattle Times.
Kerlikowske was not available for comment Friday. But Assistant Chief Jim Pugel said the chief softened the penalty because the officer was "contrite" and readily admitted his misconduct.
Kerlikowske's handling of disciplinary matters has drawn attention, in part because he has repeatedly reversed or reduced internal recommendations to punish officers accused of misconduct.
The shooting was initially reviewed by the department's Firearms Review Board, which found it to be unjustified. The chief initially resisted opening an additional internal investigation because he thought all the facts were known and that he could proceed straight to discipline and additional training.
But he ordered an internal investigation after the director of the department's Office of Professional Accountability informed him department rules appeared to make a referral mandatory and warned about inconsistent policies.
The director, Sam Pailca, cited public and media scrutiny, writing that it "peaks with a controversial police shooting."
Internal investigators found Dentinger violated a department rule prohibiting officers from shooting at moving vehicles because of the risk of causing a crash or hitting bystanders or passengers.
Officers may fire to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury or if they believe a suspect was just involved in an inherently dangerous felony such as murder, rape or kidnapping.
Dentinger shot at a patrol car commandeered by a woman about 3:45 a.m. Sept. 10 outside Harborview Medical Center.
A five-year veteran, Dentinger, 34, had been handling a call outside the hospital with another officer when the woman, Leslie Morfin, walked up to them and asked for a ride to West Seattle.
Dentinger told Morfin to call a cab. Moments later, both heard someone yell that she was taking a patrol car.
Dentinger thought she was stealing his car, although it actually belonged to the other officer. Dentinger ran toward the car, ordering Morfin to stop. She backed up, shifted into drive and began to drive away.
As Morfin pulled away, Dentinger fired three shots, all of which lodged in the car, according to department records.
Another officer arrested Morfin after a few minutes. She pleaded guilty to taking the car and served 48 days in jail.
Morfin, reached Friday, said she was unhappy that Dentinger's penalty was lifted.
"I took a felony, and he gets no punishment whatsoever," she said.
Morfin said she was deranged, hearing voices and coming down from intoxicants when she took the patrol car. She wasn't trying to hurt the officer, she said.
"This guy was trying to kill me," Morfin said.
Dentinger told the Firearms Review Board that he thought Morfin posed a danger to him and others because she was driving erratically and because she could gain access to a rifle in the trunk. But he acknowledged he should not have fired under the department's policy.
During the internal investigation, Capt. Neil Low concluded in a memo that "the suspect did not pose an imminent and ongoing threat of harm to the officer from which he could not remove himself... ."
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