Friday, December 4, 2015
Jennifer occupies a uniformed police officer position. I occupied a civilian communication position. The roles were separate and different. I was not involved in her reassignment.
For six years, Jennifer DeRuwe had been the public information officer for the Spokane Police Department. When the media wanted to set up an interview or answer a question, she would be the first person they’d contact. But in February 2013, she says, she was called into a morning meeting with then-Police Chief Frank Straub. Without much in the way of ceremony, he told her that she was no longer the
A little over two years later, Cotton would privately tell the city administrator that Straub had “grabbed her ass, tried to kiss her." (Straub denied this accusation)
But back then, DeRuwe was surprised and upset by losing her job of six years. She was told that it wasn’t anything she’d done wrong, but it felt so sudden.
It had a particular sting for another reason: DeRuwe was the person who’d found Cotton in the first place. Back in 2011, DeRuwe was feeling particularly overwhelmed with the social media aspects of the
She called Dave Cotton, then a KHQ reporter married to Cotton, and he recommended his wife. Initially, DeRuwe says, the police department contracted with Cotton to work with social media.
“I needed somebody who knew what she was doing,” DeRuwe says. “She was good at it.”
And DeRuwe says Cotton assured her she wasn’t trying to replace her.
“She point blank told me she was not going to take my job,” DeRuwe says. “That the only way she would come on full-time was if I remain the PIO.”
But in retrospect, thinking back on the number of closed-door meetings between Cotton and Straub, DeRuwe believed Cotton had been lobbying Straub for her job.
Of course, others factors may have played a part. Straub was well known for shaking up the department. DeRuwe had been in the center of another politically complicated mess. On Dec. 19, 2012, DeRuwe had been the one to report that former Assistant Police Chief Scott Stephens had vented to her angrily about his demotion from Straub, saying he was “going to go home and get a rifle.”
Stephens was fired for the remarks, and he later sued the police department for his termination, hiring the same attorney who now represents Cotton.
Furthermore, in 2012, before Straub’s appointment, the city council had recommended considering whether the PIO job should be performed by a civilian.
Review the functions of the Public Information Officer for the Police Department (PIO) with consideration as to whether the functions of the PIO should be performed by a civilian employee and/or whether other police officers should receive training in public information tasks.
Indeed, in December of 2012, Straub discussed plans to eventually hire a civilian communication director.
Nevertheless, it was a frustrating experience for DeRuwe. She had to clear out her office, in the administrative part of the Public Safety Building near the chief, as Cotton moved in. For a time, Cotton was DeRuwe’s supervisor.
Initially, DeRuwe was given a job dealing with graffiti investigations. To say the least, it didn't feel like the job fit her skill set.
“I didn’t know anything about graffiti investigation,” DeRuwe says. She had to fly out to California to be trained in graffiti enforcement. She was moved out of the Public Safety Building
When DeRuwe was first hired, she went through an elaborate competitive interview process that included writing a press release and giving a faux on-camera interview. But, from what she could tell, there was none of that when Cotton was hired.
And from DeRuwe’s vantage point, it didn’t feel like Cotton was particularly prepared or qualified.
DeRuwe says Cotton’s performance frustrated both police officers in the department and the local media.
“I think she got completely overwhelmed all the time,” DeRuwe says. “I did my very best to be responsive. That completely changed when she took over.”
Cotton clashed with a captain and a lieutenant, who last year raised complaints, ultimately deemed unfounded, about Cotton’s performance.
The decision to replace DeRuwe with Cotton stoked resentment within the department, DeRuwe says, as well as fueling rumors. (Straub is married to a woman he gave a promotion to in Indianapolis before they began officially dating.)
Further complicating matters: A few months into her new job, on Aug. 19, 2013, Straub sent out a text message that went to Cotton and to Lt. Dan Torok: "See you soon, love you. You are an awesome partner and a best friend. You always will be!"
A minute later, Straub sent out two other texts to Cotton and Torok. “Group hugs this morning at the briefing” and “Dan you are totally awesome as well. I love you. Good advice on both your parts."
A few minutes after that he sent a few more texts to Torok and Cotton: “I am very lucky to be the chief here.” “It is great to have strong partners - especially ones that challenge me to do my best for the good of the department.”
Cotton later said the initial text felt “odd and uncomfortable.” Both Cotton and Straub have repeatedly denied an affair between the two. Mary Schultz explained the text as an “attaboy” text, rather than anything romantic. (Neither Straub nor Cotton have granted recent interview requests from the Inlander.)
These days, DeRuwe works for the department doing “Youth and Community Outreach,” running programs for at-risk youth. She likes this job much better than her old PIO days.
“It was blessing in disguise,” DeRuwe says. “It really was. You couldn’t pay me enough money to go back to my [old] job.”
Despite working closely with Straub when he first joined, DeRuwe says she never personally witnessed unprofessional behavior.
“He was always very professional with me,” DeRuwe says. “I’m not discounting other people’s complaints, but me, personally he never crossed the line in any of those fashions.”