Kent Police Station. File photo

Kent Police Station. File photo

Kent Police chief fires officer for telling residents to seek ‘street justice’

21-year veteran Officer Michael Morfoot appeals decision after apartment complex incident.

Kent Police Officer Michael Morfoot became so frustrated with responding to multiple 911 calls at the same apartment complex that he told staff at the complex after they reported trespassers to exact “street justice; whoop their ass and swing a big bat,” rather than calling police for assistance.

After an internal investigation of that incident and because of six previous disciplinary actions or investigations against Morfoot during his 21 years with the department, Police Chief Rafael Padilla fired the officer July 21, 2023, for conduct unbecoming, a violation of the department’s code of conduct policy.

According to police records obtained by the Kent Reporter through a public records request, Morfoot responded to a 911 call at The BLVD Apartments, 2136 S. 272nd St., on the West Hill. During the response he told apartment staff that:

• “Street justice is a lot better than actual justice.”

• If their property was yours and someone would not leave, you “would whoop their f—-ing ass. I’m calling 911 afterwards to scrape their bloody bodies away because that justice is going to be a lot better than no justice at all.”

• They should “go with a big bat swing and a, swing a big bat, you know.”

The investigation noted that Morfoot tried to temper the above statements by prefacing them with “By no means am I telling you to do this, but…” and “You just saw what the justice system did, not a god-damn thing.”

According to a July 20, 2023 internal affairs notice of discipline document, Padilla concluded that the prefaced remarks did not save Morfoot’s conduct from violating policy.

The Kent Police Officers Association, the union that represents Morfoot, did not return emails from the Kent Reporter for comment about the firing. The union filed a grievance on behalf of Morfoot with the city chief administrative officer to object to his firing.

“Yes, the union filed a grievance and we will be hearing the grievance during the first full week of September,” said Pat Fitzpatrick, city chief administrative officer, in an Aug. 18 email.

Following that hearing, the dismissal 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 BLVD Apartments management filed a complaint with the police department against Morfoot because of the comments he made on a call. Staff also provided police with video and audio recordings of the conversation among Morfoot and apartment employees. Morfoot had turned off his body-worn camera during the conversation.

The property manager reported that temporary staff quit that day after hearing Morfoot because they thought it was outrageous that Kent Police officers were implying that apartment staff should be handling these matters on their own, according to the notice of discipline document.

Padilla wrote that he considered a range of discipline from substantial suspension without pay and termination of employment. The chief had a hearing June 29 with Morfoot, his union representatives and union attorneys. City staff was represented by Padilla, his assistant chiefs and the city attorney. Morfoot’s attorneys presented a nine-page brief and presented their case orally to the chief.

Morfoot told Padilla during his interview 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. 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 the discipline 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.”

Padilla wrote that despite his 21 years of experience with the department, Morfoot failed to take steps where he could have arrested the trespassers and instead argued that the laws did not give him the tools to do so.

“The full context of the conversation you had that day makes it clear that you were informing The BLVD Apartments staff that you and other department officers were tired of coming back to their property,” Padilla wrote. “However, instead of informing staff of the things The BLVD Apartments could do to better fortify vacant 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.’

“Your statements were not only unprofessional, but they were highly offensive and painted you, the Kent Police Department, and the city of Kent in a bad light. Your conduct was so widely far afield of the expectations of law enforcement to protect and serve.”

The disciplinary history of Morfoot over his misconduct influenced Padilla’s decision to fire him.

“Throughout your tenure you have been disciplined for your behavior and performance that has failed to meet department policy and supervisor expectations,” Padilla wrote. “The consistent theme throughout your misconduct is your repeated exercise of poor judgment. In each instance, you were either disciplined, counseled, and/or retrained. However, despite those corrective efforts, you continue to exercise poor judgment, which culminated with this latest incident at The BLVD Apartments.

“Not only have you demonstrated an inability to reform your behavior and conduct, but your misconduct is escalating and has now had serious impacts and repercussions for the department, your fellow officers, and the relationship the department has with the Kent community.”

Padilla continued to explain his reasons for firing Morfoot in the discipline document.

“Your career-long track record of misconduct and performance deficiencies is unprecedented in the history of our department,” Padilla wrote. “The seriousness of your misconduct has also consistently escalated, negatively impacted the department, and created the risk of potential civil liability for the city.

“The frequency and persistence of your inability to regulate your behavior leads me to believe that a lengthy suspension will not change your future work performance and it is likely you will engage in misconduct again. In essence, I do not trust you to adhere to our values, expectations, and policy requirements, which in turn compels me to end your employment.”

Padilla said in an email to the Kent Reporter that department policy, labor law and the city’s agreement with the police union, all provide for a process that must be followed concerning allegations of misconduct, to include a grievance process in which his decision can be grieved to the city’s chief administrative officer and then potentially to an arbitrator with the Washington State Public Employee Relations Commission. Padilla said the process, including conducting the investigation, requires significant resources and time.

The chief said the investigation was opened on Feb. 7, 2023. On May 15, 2023, Padilla issued notice to Morfoot advising him that he had preliminarily determined he violated department policy and would be scheduling a pre-disciplinary hearing for Morfoot’s side of the incident.

Padilla said the pre-disciplinary hearing occurred on June 29, 2023, where the police union presented its reasons as to why discipline should not be imposed against Mr. Morfoot, or why a lower level of discipline was warranted under the circumstances.

“Because we do an incredible amount of vetting of new officers, have a strenuous training process, and have effective accountability systems, officers being terminated for misconduct is relatively infrequent,” Padilla said. “And I want to be clear. …the primary reason we do not terminate a lot of officers employment is because the overwhelming majority of our officers do their jobs well, they act with integrity, and they simply do not engage in misconduct. They do an exceptional job despite the danger, stress, and untenable workload they face daily.”

Morfoot received some public recognition for his work over the years. In 2022, he was commended for having developed a rapport with a teenager in crisis and making a positive impression on him, according to city documents. In 2015, Morfoot received a lifesaving award for administering CPR after responding to a 911 call prior to the fire department’s arrival.

According to Kent Police, Morfoot was hired in 2002 after he served in the Army from 1995 to 2002. He attended basic training in Alabama to be a military police officer. His first duty station was with the 170th Military Police at Fort Lewis, now known as Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his first time in Washington state.

Morfoot was then stationed in Hawaii for almost four years before he ended his time with the Army with an honorable discharge in 2002. About three months later, Kent Police hired him.

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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