The first time former officer Phil Reynolds was fired from the Centralia Police Department, he was rehired with backpay after an arbitrator with the state Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) ruled in his favor in May 2014.
When the department fired Reynolds again in December 2021, he again attempted to appeal his termination via arbitration.
This time, however, an arbitrator upheld the Centralia Police Department’s decision to fire Reynolds.
Arbitrator Donna E. Lurie formally submitted her decision on Oct. 7 following a months-long arbitration process.
The first hearing in the case was held Aug. 10-11 in Centralia and the hearing record was formally closed on Sept. 19, according to PERC.
The decision was formally published on Oct. 11 and was released to The Chronicle by the Centralia Police Department.
The decision will be available publicly on PERC’s website once PERC staff review the final document to ensure names have been properly redacted, according to a PERC spokesperson.
The decision does not identify Reynolds by name, referring to him solely as “grievant.” The document does describe the details of Reynolds’ case, as previously covered by The Chronicle, and names both the Centralia Police Department and Reynolds’ union, Teamsters Local 252.
The Centralia Police Department fired Reynolds following an investigation into his alleged failure to properly investigate a potential vehicular assault domestic violence incident in September 2021.
Reynolds had been the primary officer for a vehicle-versus-pedestrian crash that occurred in the 1700 block of Cooks Hill Road on Sept. 11, where a man driving a Toyota Camry towing a utility trailer ran over his 39-year-old girlfriend and left the scene before police arrived.
Police issued an alert for officers to attempt to locate the driver and a sergeant told Reynolds to document the incident and forward it to the department’s detective division, according to Centralia Police Department investigative documents obtained by The Chronicle.
Reynolds interviewed witnesses at the scene and then interviewed the victim, who had been transported to the hospital “in severe pain” with multiple injuries.
Reynolds’ conduct and line of questioning during that interview, which Police Chief Stacy Denham previously described as “not only discourteous but completely disrespectful,” was a factor in the department’s decision to fire Reynolds.
The police department submitted an audio recording of that interview alongside 52 other exhibits as evidence for the arbitration case.
Referring to the interview, Lurie wrote, “It seemed as though the grievant did not want to hear any specifics so that he could quickly dispose of the case.”
In his own defense, Reynolds reportedly “prided himself on speed and efficiency” and said “he was commended for having the most service calls,” according to exhibits submitted by his union that were referenced in the PERC decision.
“Unfortunately, cutting short an investigation and moving too quickly to a legal conclusion can result in an incomplete and flawed investigation,” wrote Lurie.
Shortly after he left the hospital, Reynolds canceled an alert regarding the suspect and changed the title of the incident from “vehicular assault/domestic violence” to “family dispute” — a lesser offense. He then filed an “information-only report” with no instructions for his supervisor regarding the next steps for the investigation, according to investigation documents.
Reynolds also did not complete a state collision report, which is required in vehicle accidents resulting in an injury.
In the 18 days that followed the collision, Reynolds did not follow up with the victim
With nothing in the case file indicating followup was needed, the investigation was tabled until the victim put in a request for extra patrols a couple weeks later.
When questioned during Centralia Police Department’s internal investigation about his conduct and decisions regarding the case, Reynolds reportedly refused to take responsibility for rushing the investigation.
“The grievant’s sarcastic and evasive responses during the internal investigation strike at the heart of an officer’s credibility and diligence as an enforcer of the law,” wrote Lurie.
Teamsters Local 252, which submitted a total of 15 exhibits as part of the arbitration, argued against Reynolds’ determination with the claim “that less severe discipline was issued to other police officers for policy violations.”
In response to that argument, Lurie wrote, “Unlike the grievant, each of these individuals accepted personal responsibility for their actions,” adding, “the Arbitrator does not know the employment or disciplinary history of these individuals.”
Reynolds’ 15 years of service as a police officer and the commendations he has received would normally be mitigating factors for the arbitrator, but “unfortunately the grievant has had numerous policy and conduct violations over the course of his employment,” wrote Lurie.
Reynolds was first terminated from the Centralia Police Department in March 2012 for a long list of alleged policy violations — including allegations of excessive use of force.
Prior to that termination, Reynolds had already faced serious reprimands, including a two-week, unpaid suspension the previous July after an internal investigation found he excessively Tased multiple people under questionable circumstances and later lied about it, according to previous Chronicle reporting.
As of his December 2021 termination, Reynolds had four Brady disclosures — letters to the prosecutor’s office disclosing that an officer has a sustained complaint of dishonesty on their record — attached to his name. One of those letters stemmed from a June 2021 incident where Reynolds, alongside three other officers, failed to provide timely response to a domestic violence call while they were having a “crew lunch” at the police station.
“His misconduct demonstrates a pattern of selecting which aspects of the job he chooses to do then seeking to cover his transgressions with evasive or misleading answers,” wrote Lurie. “It is a tragedy that an intelligent and well-trained police officer would jeopardize his career by dismissing a vehicle-pedestrian collision between domestic partners as a waste of his time and energy.”
While Teamsters Local 252 argued Reynolds’ “actions and decisions were errors and judgment and should receive a penalty less severe than termination,” Lurie ruled that Reynolds’ conduct qualified as gross negligence, which is accepted in Washington state “as sufficient cause for immediate termination,” according to the PERC decision.
“Based on the evidence and arguments presented, the arbitrator finds that the Grievant engaged in habitual acts of misconduct … the City (of Centralia) had just cause to terminate the employment of the grievant,” Lurie wrote.
The arbitrator’s decision is final and cannot be appealed.
Reynolds was fired alongside the three other officers involved in the June 2021 incident: Sgt. John Dorff and officers Jocelynn Giammalva and Michael Smerer.
Dorff, Giammalva and Smerer have reportedly initiated the arbitration process, but decisions in their respective cases had not been released as of Tuesday evening.