Newly released records detail the alleged threat that prompted a misconduct investigation into former Assistant Police Chief Scott Stephens, which led to his resignation and $190,000 settlement from the city.
Written statements, collected as part of the investigation, indicate Stephens told a co-worker he was “going to go home and get a rifle” during an emotional conversation regarding his recent demotion. The co-worker reports Stephens said no one would blame him for going “postal.”
“It’s not like I’m going to kill any children,” Stephens reportedly said, adding, “You know I’m just kidding.”
Stephens, a 27-year SPD veteran who led the department as interim chief for much of last year, was demoted to captain in late December as part of a command staff restructuring. Investigation records now reveal former department spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe first reported Stephens’ comments on Dec. 19, the same day he was told of his demotion.
Police Chief Frank Straub put Stephens on administrative leave the following day while the department investigated.
DeRuwe reported Stephens approached her “nearly in tears.” She listened while he vented and asked what he planned to do with the rest of the day, which led to his alleged comment about going home to get a rifle.
“[After a few hours],” DeRuwe wrote, “I had processed his comments and felt concerned that [Stephens] may do something dramatic — either to himself or others.”
DeRuwe, who moved from public spokeswoman to become the department’s new Community Relations Officer in February, stated Stephens had repeatedly voiced fears about facing demotion and being pushed out of the department he had dedicated his life to serving.
“[Stephens] is a very prideful person that is passionate about the Spokane Police Department,” DeRuwe wrote. “He equated his happiness and purpose with his ability to perform his duties.”
Stephens’ attorney, Bob Dunn, calls the allegations complete “bullshit.” Dunn says Stephens denies the department’s version of what happened, arguing police officials wanted to discredit him and push him out of the department.
“Stephens never got to challenge any of these statements,” Dunn says, adding. “He was part of the old regime and he had to go.”
After Straub placed Stephens on paid administrative leave, city officials hired former U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan to conduct an independent investigation into the matter.
Hogan released a report in late April confirming details of the incident, saying Stephens made statements “to the effect that he did not think anyone would blame him if he took action, which his colleague perceived to be violent action, because of the way he had been treated.”
While praising Stephens’ long service, Hogan argued Straub and other police officials “reacted appropriately” to the comments. Stephens filed a $750,000 damage claim against the city, alleging wrongful termination, invasion of privacy and emotional distress. City officials soon announced a $190,000 settlement with Stephens, equivalent to about a year’s salary and benefits.
Dunn calls the recent release of officer statements a breach of the confidentiality agreement included in the settlement. He says officials are again trying to undermine Stephens’ credibility.
“There’s no truth to it,” he says. “[Now] my client’s in a position where he’s going to be damaged again.”
Dunn says he believes Stephens has been on vacation in the weeks since the settlement. He is “recharging his batteries” and has not yet announced any future plans.
DeRuwe did not respond to a request for comment. Spokane Police Department officials also declined to comment.