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Kirkland firefighter's criminal history raises concerns

A longtime firefighter who works at Fire Station 26 in Kirkland
A longtime firefighter who works at Fire Station 26 in Kirkland's North Rose Hill neighborhood (pictured) was the subject in a Department of Health investigation that raised concerns about his criminal convictions and the city's policy on disciplining employees.
— image credit: Matt Phelps/Kirkland Reporter

A longtime Kirkland firefighter with a criminal history – including a 2009 conviction of holding down his girlfriend and choking her for several minutes during an argument – is on probation with the state Department of Health after answering “no” when asked if he was ever convicted of a crime on his applications to renew his Emergency Medical Technician certification.

A whistleblower – a fellow concerned firefighter – notified the DOH in February 2011 about Patrick McManus’s criminal convictions, noting that he failed to report his convictions to the DOH. The DOH did not disclose the complainant’s identity, due to whistleblower protections.

The 600-plus page DOH investigation outlines McManus’s criminal past, as well as the whistleblower’s concerns that McManus is still on the job, despite his alleged questionable mental and emotional stability under stress.

McManus’s personnel file did not include a disciplinary notice on either of his gross misdemeanor convictions.

His file also shows that the Kirkland Fire Department promoted McManus to the rank of probationary lieutenant in February 2011, two weeks after the DOH launched its investigation.

Criminal history

According to Department of Health documents, the concerned firefighter told an investigator that he had an altercation with McManus four years ago in which he allegedly became so enraged that McManus “screamed at the top of his lungs.”

The fire station’s captain mediated a meeting between them, but the complainant remained upset about the incident, especially after finding out about McManus’s criminal convictions.

According to an Issaquah police report, McManus, who lives in Issaquah and became a Kirkland firefighter in 1989, was charged with fourth-degree assault in 1999 for allegedly grabbing his then-wife by the coat, spinning her around and throwing her to the ground in front of their two young children. That case was dismissed.

But in 2001, McManus pled guilty to and was convicted of third-degree malicious mischief, a gross misdemeanor, in King County District Court. During that incident, McManus showed up to a house demanding to see his girlfriend, according to the police report. However, when her friends wouldn’t let him inside, he told police that he kicked in their front door.

He was sentenced to 365 days in jail, with 365 days suspended, and fined $5,000, with $4,750 suspended.

McManus was also charged with second-degree felony assault (strangulation) in 2008, however he pled down to fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor.

During an argument with his girlfriend, McManus allegedly became extremely upset and threw a piece of a broken plate at her, according to the police report. The plate missed her and she ran towards the rear glass slide door to get away from him. She told police he pushed her to the floor near the door and he held her down with his hands and one knee. He choked her by placing both of his hands around her neck and continued to hold her down by placing one of his knees in the area of her hips, the report continues. The victim said he choked her so hard she could barely breathe for three minutes and she believed he would kill her.

The responding officer noted in the report that he observed visible injuries, including a reddish and discolored area on the back of the victim’s neck.

McManus served two days in jail for that crime, was given 24 months of probation, and ordered to complete a domestic violence treatment program.

In a subsequent evaluation by Aby and Associates, a domestic violence intervention program, a licensed mental health counselor marked that McManus was “an extreme” risk to the victim and/or community.

“This client has had multiple domestic violence arrests across three different relationships ranging from malicious mischief to assault. He has completed a previous domestic violence intervention program, yet reoffended,” the counselor wrote.

McManus’s personnel file also contains a 2008 letter from the assault victim, informing city officials about his criminal history.

“How is it he is a firefighter with (two) convictions?” She said. According to the DOH, the city possessed the letter when McManus was later promoted to lieutenant.

Investigation

It wasn’t until the Kirkland Fire Department put McManus on the promotional list for a lieutenant position that the whistleblower lodged a complaint against him with the DOH in February 2011, according to the documents.

He told the investigator that he felt it is wrong for the city to promote someone who “has a pattern of assault and criminal behavior and has displayed a lack of ability to control his temper at work” and said he believed McManus was not “mentally fit enough to not be a danger to the public or his coworkers while performing in a high stress environment,” the documents continue.

The whistleblower also said he witnessed domestic violence as a child and feels strongly about the issue, noting he felt like he did the right thing by contacting the DOH, according to the investigation.

The DOH’s Emergency Medical Trauma Services Program investigated the complaint, which alleged moral turpitude and that McManus failed to report his convictions to the department. The DOH is the state agency that requires a firefighter to periodically submit a recertification application in order to renew an EMT certification.

Investigation documents show that McManus has renewed his EMT certification six times during his 24-year employment. On five of the applications, McManus marked “no” to this question: Have you ever been convicted of any crime other than a minor traffic violation. The DOH could not locate his most recent application from 2011.

McManus told an investigator that he answered “no” on his applications because he “just wasn’t paying attention,” the documents continue.

On one of the applications, it shows that McManus initially checked the “yes” boxes, but scratched them out and checked “no” instead. When the investigator asked him why he changed his mind, he said he misunderstood the question and thought it was just about felonies.

In a letter to the DOH in December of 2011, McManus admitted his wrongdoing.

“It was wrong of me not to have marked ‘yes’ to question 5c on my EMT recertification form. I do realize what a big mistake this was. I will not make this mistake again,” wrote McManus. “I take my career very seriously. I am a proud person and I pride myself on working hard and doing the right thing. I was embarrassed by what happened to me in 2001 and in 2008. Ignoring the problem as I did, I did not make it go away as I had hoped.”

The DOH concluded its investigation in December of 2011 and placed McManus’s credential to practice as an EMT in the state of Washington on 24-month probation, through December of 2013. McManus entered into an informal settlement with the DOH, called a stipulation to informal disposition. The settlement is the EMS program’s best offer to resolve a case without formal charges and it did not require McManus to admit any wrongdoing, according to the DOH.

The DOH considered how many years McManus had with the fire department, that he didn’t have a past disciplinary record and that he successfully completed court-ordered conditions.

He was also ordered to submit quarterly personnel reports to the DOH, complete 12 hours of continuing education in the area of ethics and pay a $1,000 fine.

As a result of the DOH investigation, the city also demoted McManus to the rank of firefighter 5 at the end of his one-year probation as lieutenant in February 2012.

According to a Feb. 1, 2012 city document, the city became aware of the DOH’s investigation during McManus’s probationary period as a lieutenant.

The document states that the city was not a party to DOH’s informal settlement. But as a result of the stipulation, the city found that McManus did not meet acceptable performance standards for a Kirkland lieutenant and demoted him. The city found he was in violation of four city policies, including improper and dishonest conduct, and that members will be held responsible for their conduct while absent from the Fire Department, as well as on duty.

The city document also notes that the demotion would not prohibit him from taking future promotional exams.

Secret recording

A Reporter investigation of city records regarding McManus’s employment found that since the investigation, he has continued to violate state laws and city policies.

The city suspended him for 48 hours without pay three months ago for allegedly secretly recording a private meeting with City Manager Kurt Triplett.

City documents state that McManus met with Triplett last September at McManus’s request. During the meeting, “the city manager observed (his) phone placed face down on the table” and asked McManus if he was recording the conversation.

Triplett said that McManus replied he was recording the meeting and he had recorded all of his previous meetings with him, city documents continue. He asked McManus to stop recording the conversation, as he didn’t have the city manager’s permission.

McManus denied that he recorded the conversation.

The city initiated an investigation into the secret recording and found that McManus violated the state privacy act, as well as a city code. McManus was suspended without pay from Nov. 19-29.

McManus alleges harassment

McManus told the Reporter that he believes he is the victim and the whistleblower and the city have continued to harass him.

He said he was “surprised” when he found out about the DOH investigation. He  told Fire Chief Kevin Nalder that “this guy’s harassing me and no one is making him stop. He’s getting this wave of animosity against me.”

McManus said he knows who the whistleblower is and noted the “small disagreement” the two had several years ago. He said they were both assigned to an aid car at Station 27 one day and they argued over how to respond to an aid call.

“He was complaining to me, he just wouldn’t stop about it. I finally just said you need to shut up and do your job,” said McManus, adding that the firefighter said he  “wanted to put a fist through my face.”

He believes that argument, plus the complainant’s own family issues with domestic violence, was the concerned firefighter’s motive for contacting the DOH.

“I have nothing else to go on,” said McManus, who works at Station 26 in the North Rose Hill neighborhood and was named firefighter of the year in 2003. “I’ve been here for 24 years and no one has ever complained about me. What proof does he have? I’m not sure what he’s basing that on.”

McManus said he has “always been up front” about his criminal past and notified city officials about his convictions as soon as they happened.

While he admits that he erred on his EMT applications, he said he “wishes I would’ve disclosed (my crimes) because I would’ve been a lot better off now.”

Even with two gross misdemeanor convictions, he denies that he has a violent past and said he is not a threat to the community.

Regarding his 2001 conviction, he said he was dealing with two drunk men. He said he put his boot in the door to stop them from closing it and ended up damaging the door when he tried to dislodge his boot.

He also denied the assault in his 2009 conviction. He noted he was ill-prepared to help his girlfriend, who was addicted to pain medication, go through detox at home and tried to calm her down.

“When I was little, one brother would hold the other down when they got mad,” he said, noting he merely tried to restrain his girlfriend from assaulting him.

The victim in that case wrote a letter to the DOH in 2011 stating she was still McManus’s girlfriend. She said it was her fault that she instigated the fight and lied to police about the assault.

He said it’s “unfair” that his criminal past was used against him.

“You take a class and you do your stuff and this one guy keeps using my convictions against me,” said McManus of the complainant. “This stuff is so old and this guy keeps dragging them around the station. It should be me and the guys at the station and how I’m performing my job. It’s just not right. Somebody should make him stop.”

He said city officials have not stopped the alleged harassment against him because he is not in a “protected class.”

“If I was a woman and not a white guy, I wouldn’t be in this position,” he added.

He also noted that he was the No. 1 candidate for a captain’s position before he was demoted last year and that the investigation has “tremendously” ruined his career.

City policies

One big question the whistleblower and assault victim raised during the investigation is why was McManus allowed to keep his job, despite his convictions?

According to a job posting for an entry-level Kirkland firefighter on www.publicsafetytesting.com, one of the agency’s hiring requirements is that the applicant should not have any adult felony convictions at any time. But the requirements do not discredit those convicted of gross misdemeanors.

In addition, Chief Nalder, who couldn’t comment specifically on McManus’s personnel issue, said there are various city code provisions and administrative rules that apply to city employees convicted of crimes during their employment.

“Each situation is different and we gather all the facts and if they do affect the department, we deal with each one based on the circumstances,” said Nalder.

Marie Stake, Communications manager, cited at least eight city and state laws that apply to city employees convicted of crimes. Under those measures, “the city has the tools it needs to discipline or terminate employees for the conviction of a crime, which could adversely impact the employee’s ability to perform the duties of his/her position,” said Stake in an email.

How does the city measure whether a certain conviction adversely impacts an employee’s job performance?

Job relatedness may be a factor, said Stake.

“For example, if a city employee who is required to maintain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) as a job specification were to lose his/her CDL as the result of a misdemeanor, the city would have more latitude in discipline or termination than it would if the misdemeanor were unrelated to city employment,” she said. “Such circumstances would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The substance of the conviction would be evaluated against the job duties.”

 

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