Pat Fitzpatrick, city of Kent chief administrative officer. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Pat Fitzpatrick, city of Kent chief administrative officer. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent city administrator upholds firing of police officer

Pat Fitzpatrick denies union grievance to return Officer Michael Morfoot to the force

The city of Kent chief administrative officer upheld the firing of Kent Police Officer Michael Morfoot by the police chief.

Pat Fitzpatrick issued his ruling in a Sept. 26 letter to Morfoot and the Kent Police Officers Association, the union representing Morfoot that filed a grievance with Fitzpatrick to object to the firing. The Kent Reporter obtained the letter Oct. 4 through a public records request with the city of Kent. Fitzpatrick denied the grievance.

The union filed the grievance July 24, just three days after Police Chief Rafael Padilla fired Morfoot for conduct unbecoming, a violation of the department’s code of conduct policy.

The conduct included Morfoot telling staff during a response call to The BLVD Apartments on the West Hill after they reported trespassers to exact “street justice; whoop their ass and swing a big bat,” rather than calling police for assistance, according to police records obtained by the Kent Reporter through a public records request after Padilla investigated Morfoot’s actions.

“I am not convinced that the chief’s disciplinary decision was excessive, violated progressive discipline or failed to include mitigating circumstances such as Mr. Morfoot’s tenure with the city or his satisfactory work performance between his prior disciplinary matters,” wrote Fitzpatrick, a former city attorney with Kent prior to his promotion to chief administrative officer.

Apartment staff with The BLVD filed a complaint with the police department, which led to an internal investigation of Morfoot. Because of the incident and six previous disciplinary actions or investigations against Morfoot during his 21 years with the department, Padilla fired him, according to police records.

City and union staff met Sept. 7 to discuss the grievance. At the meeting were Morfoot, union President Justin Campbell, union representative Wayne Graff, private attorneys Dave Luxenberg and Luke Absher, City Attorney Tammy White and Fitzpatrick, according to the letter from Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick reviewed statements from the meeting and documents for about three weeks prior to making his decision.

“The union raised no procedural issues and no allegation that Morfoot was denied any of the officer bill of rights secured to him through the KPOA (union) collective bargaining agreement,” Fitzpatrick wrote.

Union objections to certain steps by Padilla didn’t persuade Fitzpatrick.

“Turning to the arguments raised by KPOA, I am unpersuaded that Mr. Morfoot was denied a fair and objective investigation,” he wrote.

Fitzpatrick said the union did not present any authority that required Chief Padilla to put Morfoot out on administrative leave instead of allowing him to work while the investigation ran its course.

“The fact that Mr. Morfoot was allowed to continue working until the investigation was complete, until the chief could hear directly from Mr. Morfoot at his Loudermill (due process) hearing and until the chief made his disciplinary decision, does not affect the determination of whether just cause exists to support Mr. Morfoot’s discipline,” Fitzpatrick wrote.

Fitzpatrick said administrative leave is a discretionary decision left to the chief and he was well within his right to allow Morfoot to continue to work until the investigation and disciplinary decision was complete.

“I am similarly unpersuaded by the KPOA’s argument that the chief mischaracterized the facts in rendering his decision,” Fitzpatrick said. “The chief is clear in his decision document that all of the evidence gathered during the investigation forms the basis for his decision, including the video and the statements Mr. Morfoot made both in that video and in his interview with Cmdr. (Mike) O’Reilly.

“Considering the entire decision document as a whole and not a simple sentence viewed in isolation, I interpret the chief’s statement as highlighting where Mr. Morfoot should have limited his exchange and where he crossed the line.”

Fitzpatrick then referenced in a footnote of the letter where Padilla in his investigative report said that instead of Morfoot informing the apartment complex staff things they could do better to fortify units or dissuade trespassers, “you graphically and shockingly told them to handle the matter through ‘street justice,’ whopping some ass’ and to ‘swing a big bat’ and that you yourself would only call 911 after the fact ‘to scrape their bloody bodies away.’”

Fitzpatrick also said it was appropriate for Padilla to consider Morfoot’s prior discipline for purposes of progressive discipline. The chief found his misconduct continued to escalate through the years.

“The conduct here may have been enough, in and of itself, to warrant Mr. Morfoot’s termination without the need to rely on prior discipline,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said Morfoot’s conduct cannot be viewed in a vacuum.

“It must be viewed in context to the significant societal shift that began in 2020 and has continued through our community and the state Legislature,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our community has been clear that they expect measured responses from those entrusted to enforce their laws.”

Fitzpatrick recognized Morfoot’s 21 years with the department.

“But he also had several disciplinary matters over the course of employment that involved his failure to exercise good judgment and some of those disciplinary matters led to prior suspensions,” Fitzpatrick wrote.

“KPOA’s assertion was not persuasive and is hereby denied,” he concluded.

The police union, and its President Justin Campbell, have not responded to emails from the Kent Reporter for comment about Fitzpatrick’s decision. The union also didn’t respond to the Kent Reporter for comment in an August article after Padilla fired Morfoot.

The case could potentially go to an arbitrator with the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission, Padilla said. That agency oversees public employee labor-management disputes, including the termination of police officers. The union didn’t respond to questions from the Kent Reporter about whether it will take that step.

Morfoot told Padilla, during his interview to investigate the incident, that his statements were made out of frustration because staff at the apartments had not taken adequate steps, in his opinion, to dissuade trespassers from reentering the property, according to the notice of discipline document written by Padilla. He also was frustrated by the state Legislature limiting officers in their ability to do their jobs. He claimed he was not intending to incite violence.

“Regardless of your intent, your willful and reckless statements evidence shockingly poor judgment on your part, which has been a recurrent problem in each of your prior disciplinary matters,” Padilla wrote in Morfoot’s disciplinary document. “Additionally, had staff at The BLVD Apartments or their temporary employees acted on your reckless statements, the city would have been exposed to potential civil liability, and you could have exposed yourself to potential criminal liability.”

Morfoot’s disciplinary history

• April 26, 2021

From Chief Rafael Padilla

Suspended without pay for two work shifts for a total of 20 hours over one incident after he did not take photos or document damage to a vehicle’s ignition; unlawfully extended the detention of the vehicle passenger and placed him under arrest without probable cause; and searched the passenger and that none of these actions were documented in his police report. He also failed to document the muting of his body-worn camera during the incident and collected evidence items from the passenger but failed to submit them into evidence.

• April 26, 2021

From Chief Padilla

Ordered to undergo performance counseling after he failed to refer a robbery/carjacking case to detectives and failed to initially obtain video of the incident until prompted by another officer seven days after the original incident.

• July 21, 2020

From Assistant Chief Eric Hemmen:

Written reprimand for failure to activate his body-worn camera prior to contact with a subject; did not conduct a credible interview (failing to ask significant questions) during a domestic violence call; failure to check on the welfare of the victim’s children; failure to offer the victim advocate services; failure to refer the case to Special Investigations Unit.

• Oct. 2, 2017

From then-Assistant Chief Derek Kammerzell

One-day suspension without pay after he responded to a call at the Cowgirls Espresso stand and asked a barista wearing a bra and thong if he could take a photograph with her.

• June 18, 2015

From then-Chief Ken Thomas

Internal affairs investigation into several incidents, no discipline issued but Thomas put Morfoot on an expectations and performance improvement plan for the rest of his career after investigating that Morfoot advised a mother he would not look for her runaway child because she wasn’t doing enough to look for the 11-year-old boy; that he was disrespectful and inappropriate in his tone with a supervising sergeant; by not proactively policing; and by spending unnecessary time in a police substation – instead of patrolling his sector or responding to calls for service.

• Feb. 17, 2012

From then-Chief Thomas

Written reprimand and changed to another squad due to disrespect for a supervisor during a briefing and another interaction the same day outside the lunch room. Insubordination for failure to obtain a replacement vehicle and clear the police station in a timely manner when there were an extremely high number of calls due to extreme weather.

• June 16, 2005

From then-Chief Ed Crawford

One-day suspension without pay for a vehicle collision he was involved in.

Source: Kent Police public records request

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