Kalama City Councilmember Matthew Michael Merz, 42, was found guilty of two felonies — computer trespass and data theft — Friday in Cowlitz County Superior Court. His sentencing is scheduled for April 28.
In the course of the two-day trial, the jury found the sitting councilman guilty of accessing the email account of another city councilmember in an effort to uncover misconduct involving the Kalama police. After the verdict, city officials asked Merz to step down from the office he was elected to in 2019.
A Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office Uniform Incident Report says Merz “implicated himself in the illegal act” by guessing the password and accessing Kalama City Councilmember Jon Stanfill’s city email account in March 2022.
Merz told a Cowlitz County deputy he breached the account by assuming city email passwords were similar, the probable cause report states.
He told The Daily News, during the initial two-hour meeting with deputies, he thought he was there “to provide evidence as a witness,” and then asked, “who walks into a police department and confesses crimes?”
According to the deputy’s report, Merz is that person, as he provided the official with a flash drive that contained “emails and files including [a] PowerPoint presentation involving the Kalama Police Department” obtained from Stanfill’s account.
Merz has claimed the findings show the city illegally created a “shadow committee” to advise the police, which city officials continue to deny. The city reports the committee was legitimately created to get citizen input on the police department’s five-year strategic plan.
Merz allegedly told deputies one of his motives to access the email account was because he felt the Kalama Police Department was not helping him with a man who was cyberstalking him. Merz said Kalama Police Chief Ralph Herrera was “keeping other people in the loop, but I’m not told anything,” about the stalker.
According to court documents, Christopher Charles Jensen, 52, of Salem, Oregon, was arrested after sending text messages threatening to kill Merz and even drove to Merz’s uncle’s home. In September, Jensen pleaded guilty to cyberstalking Merz in December 2021 and he was sentenced to 90 days in local jail, according to court records.
Merz has maintained the charges brought against him are a political witch hunt to “protect the sheriff’s friends,” and that the “Kalama swamp is alive and well.”
Merz had a small group with him when the verdict came down, including his father Michael Merz, who told The Daily News “the process is the punishment.”
As the jury deliberated his fate, Merz told The Daily News, “I’m like Jake LaMotta in ‘Raging Bull’... ‘put me in Ray.’”
In the film, boxer LaMotta is washed up, and at the end recites the line from the film “On the Waterfront,” “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody ... ”
Coni McMaster, the Kalama city clerk and treasurer who testified at the trial, told The Daily News she agreed with the verdict and when asked if Merz should be removed from the Kalama City Council, she simply said “yes.”
Stanfill, whose email account Merz was convicted of hacking into, told The Daily News he is “still processing” the verdict but is “relieved” the trial has concluded. Stanfill said Merz “seemed not to take responsibility for what he did.”
Kalama City Administrator Adam Smee issued a statement on behalf of the city after the verdict, requesting Merz step down from office.
The statements says under Washington state code, “the conviction of a public officer of any felony or malfeasance in office would ... result in the forfeiture of his office and disqualification from holding any public office in the future. Given his conviction, the city will expect Mr. Merz to follow the laws of the state and submit his resignation. Elected officials should be above reproach and act ethically in all actions in their service to the public.”