Part 1 of 2 parts. You can read part 2 here.
An independent investigation of City of Brier Police Chief Nick Almquist found that he made “untruthful, calculated, and misleading” statements last summer while arranging coverage for his vacation. Almquist is no longer with the department, having announced his retirement July 25 — the day after the city placed Almquist on paid administrative leave.
A separate city investigation determined that Brier Lt. Chad Ridout – who left the force in September – also made leadership mistakes in his position.
The City of Brier announced on its website the retirement of 33-year police veteran Almquist and the transfer of Ridout to another local police department in September 2023.
According to a third-party report prepared at the city’s request by PST Investigations (PST), Almquist left for a preplanned, prepaid out-of-state camping vacation from July 14-24, 2023. Before leaving, he verbally told City of Brier personnel he arranged for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) to respond to Brier’s 911 calls. However, this would end up not being the case.
The report, acquired by MLTnews through a public records request, showed that City of Brier Mayor Kaemingk didn’t know that SCSO never agreed to provide coverage outside the interlocal agreement (ILA) between Brier and the sheriff’s office until after Almquist was on vacation.
“I have a non-disclosure agreement with Brier, so I cannot comment,” Almquist said last week. “I would hope they (Brier officials) are also holding up to this as well.”
The City of Brier provided the records requested by MLTnews as required by Washington State’s “sunshine laws.” Both the City of Brier and Brier Police Department staff have declined to comment outside of Mayor Dale Kaemingk stating, “This was all very disappointing for me.”
According to the PST Investigations report, the lack of coverage left Brier without patrol personnel to respond to 911 calls from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. on July 16, 17 and 18, 2023.
The PST Investigations report concluded that “Almquist’s statements that he arranged for coverage for his assigned shifts in July (16, 17, and 18), are untruthful, calculated, and misleading.”
On July 17, at 11:48 a.m. – during Almquist’s vacation – there was an emergency call for domestic violence received by Snohomish County 911 (SNOCO 911). It occurred during the timeframe Almquist claimed SCSO was providing coverage.
SCSO responded to the call for what would end up being a verbal dispute between two individuals, rather than a physical altercation.
On July 24, Almquist was placed on paid administrative leave pending findings from PST. He retired from law enforcement the next day.
The PST investigation of department emails showed that staffing levels had affected the quality of life for Brier Police Department employees before Almquist submitted his vacation request on March 3. The investigation document shows officers working overtime and borrowing coverage from surrounding departments and SCSO.
The PST report shows that in his search for coverage, Almquist emailed Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Peter Caw June 20, asking to use one of his commanders to be on call during his vacation in July.
“My lieutenant will be on paternity leave the month of July, and I am in a bind. I will be camping in Idaho from July 14-24. Returning to work on the 25th, do you think this is possible?” he wrote.
According to the PST report, that same day Brier Lt. Chad Ridout emailed McDonald, who oversees patrol operations for the Field Operations Bureau of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, with the subject, “July/August OT Coverage for Brier.” In the email, he stated Brier would need SCSO to cover July 13 and 20 from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. He noted that these times were outside of the agreed time frame in the interlocal agreement, and could not be accommodated.
During an interview with a PST investigator, Capt. Steven McDonald of SCSO’s field operations bureau said that “[Almquist] wanted July, Thursday, July 13th filled, which I told him no. Monday, Tuesday, the 17th and 18th, Thursday the 20th, which I told him no.’
On June 21, McDonald and several sheriff’s office personnel received an email from SCSO’s Administrative Bureau Chief Norman Link. In the email, Link explained the interlocal agreement with the City of Brier, which did not include the times Ridout requested for coverage.
Link wrote that under that contract, “We are providing them a deputy sheriff on O.T. on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights (6 p.m. to 2 a.m.).”
Almquist wrote Link on June 26, stating that he was in a “desperate situation” and included the Brier Police Department schedule. He explained that Officer Alex Hawley — who now serves as interim Brier police chief — was on light duty until the end of July, Ridout was out on paternity leave, and there were two graveyard shifts that Officer Francisco Montague needed to spend with an ill family member.
Of particular concern was the fact that one of his officers – Keli Otake – was scheduled to work 11 straight days without a break.
He wrote to Link stating that he had been tasked with another attempt at an amendment to the current interlocal agreement that would add a clause permitting alternate hours outside of the current schedule and allow for situations like the one he was in.
Link replied that Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney was out of the office and passed the information on to Undersheriff Ian Huri.
The investigation report states that in a July 19 memo about SCSO coverage, Otake recalled a conversation with Almquist before he left for vacation.
“Chief Almquist advised that he wished Sheriff Fortney was not in Mexico on vacation because he had a better relationship with him than he did with the acting person in charge,” Otake wrote. “This led me to believe that he was not getting the coverage he wanted as he believed he would have gotten from Sheriff Fortney.”
How the situation was dealt with was revealed in a July 19 memo about sick leave and coverage when Montague’s requested sick leave days for July 13 and July 20 to care for his ill fiancé were denied.
We just won’t tell them
The PST report shows Montague’s statement about a July 5 meeting with Almquist regarding denial of the sick leave request; he proposed Montague work partial shifts to take sick leave. Almquist told him if he worked partial shifts, he could “put the City of Brier at Level 2 and then leave.”
He advised that after being on Level 2, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office could cover the city.
Level 2 is when the city is experiencing high 911 call volume. During level 2 status only “in progress” calls are responded to due to limited resources. Other non-priority calls are put on temporary hold until staff are available.
“Chief Almquist mentioned something to the effect of ‘We just won’t tell them’ and ‘They have to cover by law,’” Montague wrote.
“Based on this information, I did not take the needed sick leave and worked my regular scheduled shifts,” Montague added.
Although this resolved coverage for Montague’s shift, it did nothing to cover Otake’s shifts while Almquist was away.
In a July 19 memorandum from Hawley titled, “RE: Chief Almquist’s vacation and Snohomish County’s patrol coverage assistance,” Hawley stated that Almquist had assigned him as the officer in charge and left instructions and a Brier patrol schedule.
At the bottom of the list “OIC Duties while I am away,” Almquist wrote, “Notifications to me: I trust you to keep the ship upright while I am away. If something major happens (Ofc [officer] involved shooting, death, etc.) I would like you to call me on my personal phone. Since we are very remote in North Idaho, most of my access will be when we are out in a boat. I will have it with me for sure when we are on the lake.”
On Friday, July 14, Otake made a comment about who would be relieving Montague after his shift ended at 6 a.m. on Sunday, July 7.
“I immediately looked at the posted patrol schedule located inside of the patrol room,” Hawley wrote. “I noticed that the G3 shift – 1800-0200 – was covered but that no other shifts were reportedly covered on the 16th, 17th, or 18th.”
Hawley called Almquist and asked who would relieve Montague at the end of his shift on July 16. Almquist said that SCSO would be relieving him and that SCSO would be covering the day shifts for the 17th and 18th as well.
The PST investigation reports on June 29, Almquist, Mayor Kaemingk and Brier Treasurer Paula Swisher received a formal grievance from Mike Miskell of Teamsters 117 — the union representing Brier police officers.
On July 3, Almquist replied to the Teamsters proposing a resolution to Otake’s schedule. He stated that she was not responsible for working July 16-18 and that he would come home a day early so she would not need to work his shift on July 24.
“It should be noted that even prior to this grievance, I had scheduled myself [three] 12-hour shifts when Officer Otake was scheduled to work,” Almquist wrote. “This was to assist with the busy work schedule ahead of her in July.”
In a July 5 memorandum, Almquist notified the mayor that Otake had a preplanned event on July 2 and could not work overtime.
Almquist also told the mayor that on June 25, he modified the schedules to show patrol coverage changes due to Ridout’s paternity leave, Hawley’s light duty being extended, and Almquist’s preapproved July vacation.
In addition, Almquist stated that the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office could not provide coverage outside of the coverage stated in the interlocal agreement.
“Because of this, I had to have Keli work three of my scheduled days, that placed her working 11 days straight,” Almquist wrote. “Clearly, this is not ideal. However, we had no options.”
Almquist wrote that he took the time to explain the realities of where the Brier Police Department was with staffing, and that he was trying to do everything in his power to alleviate the number of days Otake had to work. Further, he added that the situation “should never have been a shock to her as she is fully aware of our staffing crisis.”
Otake responded that management was expected to work extra hours.
Almquist stated, “I corrected her by saying that police work is always evolving. Our commitment [is] not only to uphold safety in the community, but we also have that same expectation to maintain operations in the department…but she told me she did not have any obligation to communicate with me on her days off.”
He continued, “Again, I was shocked by her boldness to actually say this to me. I told her that when I call or text her on her days off, it is not to ask her how her day is going or what she is up to…. She said that her contract states she does not have any obligation to reply to me.”
Almquist quoted a July 4 email from Otake stating she was taking a sick day on July 5 due to a neck strain.
Otake ended the email with, “Due to recent events, I no longer feel comfortable speaking to you on the phone or in person without someone else present.”
Part 2 of this story will be published on Jan. 2.
— By Rick Sinnett