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This happened last summer on the District I work for.
Sheriff's deputy resigns after illegal campfire claim
Officer shares his side of story
By SCOTT GUTIERREZ
An embattled King County Sheriff's deputy acquitted in a 2008 federal civil rights case has resigned after being accused of misconduct in a separate matter involving an illegal campfire.
Deputy Brian Bonnar was issued two misdemeanor citations on Aug. 14, 2009 for a fire at a campground in the Wenatchee National Forest.
The campfire became a bigger issue after a U.S. Forest Service officer complained to the Sheriff's Office that Bonnar was uncooperative and had to be told twice to douse the fire, and that he had flashed his badge in trying to get special treatment because he was a police officer. Bonnar denies the claims.
In a settlement with the Sheriff's Office, Bonnar agreed to resign May 31 as long as the misconduct charges were not sustained in his personnel file. The charges included allegations of conduct unbecoming, misuse of authority, lying to investigators about his conduct and engaging in criminal conduct. He was facing termination.
"The agreement was reached with Bonnar to ensure his employment with the Sheriff's Office ended, thereby avoiding a possible adverse decision during any arbitration process," sheriff's Sgt. John Urquhart said in a statement.
In an interview last week, Bonnar, 44, said the Sheriff's Office ignored facts that support his side of the story. He said he was mistreated by a badge-heavy and foul-mouthed Forest Service officer and thinks the Forest Service called his bosses in retaliation for Bonnar complaining to the officer's supervisor and in a letter to U.S. Congressman Doc Hastings.
The latest internal investigation dragged on for 10 months, all during which Bonnar was paid to stay home on administrative leave. It also happend less than a year after a stressful trial in which he was acquitted of federal charges that he used excessive force on a handcuffed suspect.
Bonnar said he hasn't gotten a fair shake from Sheriff Sue Rahr and her administration since trying to return to work after his trial and serve the community. After speaking with his wife, he decided he no longer wants to be a cop.
"It's amazing how quickly the system will turn on you once they decide you're not wanted there," he said. "They will make up anything to justify their existence and to make the story appear that it supports their version."
In addition, Bonnar and the King County Police Officers' Guild agreed to drop their appeal of a 20-day suspension issued to Bonnar four years ago over the excessive force allegations.
"So long as Bonnar has accurately stated his duties and responsibilities while with the County, and Bonnar has not provided a written waiver to the County, the County agrees that in response to reference requests from prospective employer, it will only provide the dates of employment, the title(s) of Bonnar's position(s), and his salary," according to a copy of the agreement.
Bonnar, who had previously worked patrol in Burien and Kenmore, has since started his own security consulting and private investigations firm. He said he has been unable to find work due to the media coverage of his case. "I can't get a job anywhere. Every single time I apply for a job and they Google me, I'm screwed --regardless of whether I'm innocent or guilty as sin," he said.
The most recent flap started when he took his 4-year-old son camping along with a friend and the friend's son. They checked online to see which campsites were exempt from the burn ban, but arrived late at night and missed a sign, so they mistakenly parked at the wrong campground, he said.
Bonnar said his friend had arrived earlier and started the fire. His friend, Matthew Jewett, corroborated that in a signed statement to the court. But Bonnar said he was the one who was cited because he was the first to be confronted by two Forest Service employees who drove up in an unmarked pickup. It was dark and he didn't recognize them, and he was unsure if they posed a threat, he said.
Once they identified themselves, Bonnar said they asked for his identification, so he opened his wallet. That's when they noticed his King County badge and asked if he was in law enforcement, he said.
He said he asked if they could let him off with a warning since it was a misunderstanding about which campsite they were at. He said he did not ask for favorable treatment.
"It wasn't a tense encounter with them at all," he said.
Bonnar said he and his friend decided to let the fire die out. He said it was down to smoldering embers when an older Forest Service officer pulled up about 45 minutes later with the two others and was furious about the fire still burning. He said the second officer was hostile towards him and used profanity. He was issued a second ticket.
In his written statement to the court, Jewett said the officer pledged to personally make sure misdemeanor charges were pursued and seemed to be "taking extraordinary actions in this case that he knew to be discriminatory" because Bonnar was a police officer. Jewett said that had the first rangers explicitly instructed them to put out the fire immediately, they would have done so.
Bonnar said he later notified his supervisor of what happened.
A citation for a campfire in a restricted area is punishable by a fine from $100 to $5,000 and/or one year in jail, according to a Forest Service Web site. Bonnar paid a fine, resulting in dismissal of the citations, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Spokane.
A spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service declined last week to comment.
Bonnar previously worked as a Boston-area corrections officer and left a high-paying software sales job to join the Sheriff's Office in 2003, according to a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
He said he did so to help people and protect those who can't protect themselves.
But there are some in the Sheriff's Office who say Bonnar's temper is what landed him in previous trouble.
Bonnar returned to work last year after a federal jury acquitted him of civil rights violations and perjury in U.S. District Court in Seattle. The charges stemmed from a scuffle after a high-speed pursuit on Oct. 22 2005. Bonnar had been accused by another deputy of twice kneeing a handcuffed woman, 41, in the head after she'd been restrained on the ground and stopped trying to fight. The woman, Irene Damon, was allegedly high on crack cocaine, and had rammed two patrol cars before crashing into a parked vehicle in White Center.
During the trial, Bonnar's lawyer pointed out that other deputies testifying didn't see Bonnar strike the woman and that a witness thought it was a blonde-haired deputy who hit Damon. Bonnar is bald. In addition, Damon showed no lasting visible injuries, according to testimony.
In an internal investigation the burden of proof is lower than in a criminal case. Rahr opted to suspend Bonnar without pay for 20 days after the internal investigation, despite his commander's recommendation that he be fired. His case divided loyalties between those who thought he should have been canned and those who thought he was being railroaded.
Bonnar said last week that it was his first big felony pursuit and that he was jacked up on adrenalin. He said the situation was moving quickly as he and other deputies tried to get Damon under control and ensure she had no weapons. He said he had pressed his knee against Damon's shoulder so deputies could get her arm out to handcuff her and that it was possible he struck her, but not intentionally. He said he told that to investigators.
Despite the acquittal, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly, who presided over the trial, said he thought there "was a substantial amount of evidence that (Bonnar) did not meet the standard for law enforcement in our community."
Bonnar said that facing a possible prison sentence was difficult for his family and that without his two children, his wife, and his faith, he would not have had the will to live.
"I almost went to prison for 15 years for something I didn't do. I woke up every morning for three years, looking in the eyes of my kids, and saying 'I'm not going to be here for them because I'm getting railroaded through this system politically because some federal prosecutor wants to run for Congress next year and because the sheriff wants to show everybody I'm really hard on my guys," he said.
Scott Gutierrez can be reached at 206-448-8334 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/2_scoops.
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