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Trouble for officer who hit pedestrian: Veteran reprimanded in past for alcohol-related incidents

Though city officials suggest there is not a connection between the three incidents, the officer who struck a pedestrian on the Fourth of July was arrested for a DUI two years ago and reprimanded for being drunk at this year’s Officer of the Year award ceremony.

Officer Chris DeChant, a nine-year veteran of the Mercer Island Police Department, hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk at the intersection of Island Crest Way and the westbound I-90 exit. The incident occurred around 8:15 p.m. on July 4 and the initial statement released by the MIPD indicated a setting sun may have impaired DeChant’s vision at the time.

The investigation being conducted by the Washington State Patrol is expected to be released this week.

In regard to the two past incidents that resulted in internal investigations and subsequent punishments, Police Chief Ed Holmes characterized DeChant as a great officer that has gotten himself into trouble a few times by making bad decisions.

DeChant was first reprimanded after he was arrested for a DUI in December 2004. Washington State Patrol officers arrested DeChant after he rear-ended another vehicle within the intersection of I-90 and SR-18 around 10 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2004. DeChant was driving home from a holiday party at the Maplewood Golf Course, the police investigation said, where he was drinking with other members of the Eastside Narcotics Task Force.

It was a minor collision but both vehicles sustained some damage. The car DeChant was driving was a government-owned vehicle, which belonged to the Eastside Narcotics Task Force, and he had firearms in a gym bag in the back seat. On-duty MIPD officers were called to the scene to pick up the vehicle and weapons.

“I figured I was screwed, blued and tattooed,” DeChant said of the arrest during his interview with Holmes.

DeChant also told Holmes he refused to blow into the breathalyzer because he figured he had already lost his job.

“My career and life flashed before me,” he said. “I just wanted to get out of there and get home to my wife.”

DeChant took and failed a field test but refused to blow into the breathalyzer. He admitted to the responding officers that he had consumed six or seven drinks. According to documents of the investigation, DeChant stated he had six pints of a winter ale. Another witness stated he saw DeChant have at least one martini.

The officer was immediately suspended with pay during the investigation. Once the internal investigation concluded, DeChant was suspended for 75 days without pay by former Public Safety Director Ron Elsoe. During the suspension, he was allowed to use his vacation time, comp time or holiday time, which amounted to 44 days of pay.

In addition to the suspension, he was demoted from detective to patrol officer and his pay was reduced 83 cents per hour. He was also barred from any department activities during that time.

During the investigation, a Eastside Narcotics Task Force attorney, who attended the party with DeChant, said DeChant can make some stupid decisions when drinking.

DeChant was also required to attend an alcohol assessment that concluded he did not have a problem with alcohol. In the assessment, a state-employed counselor noted there was a low risk of DeChant re-offending. He also attended a DUI victim’s panel. As a condition to return to the department, DeChant was informed he would lose his job for any future discipline involving alcohol.

Then this February, DeChant was reprimanded for his behavior at a department event that took place at the Mercer Island VFW Hall.

Though DeChant did not lose his job for the alcohol-related incident, he was again ordered to go through another alcohol assessment and investigated again by Internal Affairs, this time by operations Cmdr. Dave Jokinen.

DeChant was reprimanded for disruptive behavior while drinking at the annual Officer of the Year banquet on Feb. 17. Jokinen recommended suspending DeChant for a day but Chief Holmes ultimately did not suspend him after meeting with a representative of the police officer’s union.

According to the internal investigation, DeChant was drinking before the ceremony and had taken three or four shots of tequila at the banquet.

His “behavior was high[ly] disruptive,” the report stated. “During the awards ceremony, DeChant could be heard yelling and laughing. DeChant’s actions that evening clearly violated city and department rules/regulations.”

During the ceremony, several officers, including Cmdr. Jokinen, had asked DeChant to be quiet or leave. The interruptions continued, however, and Jokinen eventually ordered another officer to remove DeChant. While getting out of his chair, DeChant fell over. He left briefly and returned.

DeChant then continued with his “loud noises, grunts and laughs.” In his report, Jokinen wrote that he had spoken with several attendees, including retired officers and several spouses who felt DeChant had “ruined the party.”

In his interview with Jokinen, DeChant said his actions were stupid and that he should have stayed where he was drinking before the ceremony. He also said he did not want to go to the event but was pushed into it. DeChant then told Jokinen that he had never been to work under the influence.

“I am a moron for drinking like that at a department function,” DeChant told Jokinen.

Jokinen noted that DeChant was cooperative, forthcoming and did not appear to be deceptive or evasive during the interview.

As punishment, Jokinen recommended reassigning DeChant from graveyard shift to swing shift where he can be supervised and monitored more closely. DeChant was also ordered to take an alcohol assessment with the results provided to the department.

Holmes reminded DeChant he could have fired him based on the agreement made after his DUI. However, Holmes wrote he did not feel that was necessary because of his satisfactory performance on the job. The chief, however, did warn DeChant that future incidents involving alcohol would not be tolerated.

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