OLYMPIA - Thurston County's police unions have gone to bat for a prosecutor about to lose his job.
The presidents of all four of the county’s major police unions signed a Dec. 15 letter addressed to newly elected Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim, protesting his decision not to renew the contract of Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Bruneau and saying they’ve lost confidence in Tunheim. The letter was sent to The Olympian on Tuesday.
The letter suggests police in Thurston County might not support Tunheim’s re-election in four years because of his decision not to rehire Bruneau.
In the letter, the police unions call Bruneau a “trial warrior” and a “champion of public safety.”
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“For many years we have enjoyed a solid working relationship with Mr. Bruneau,” the letter states. “He is widely regarded by police officers throughout the state, peer prosecutors, defense lawyers and even judges as one of the finest trial attorneys in this county or any other. He has over 35 years of criminal trial experience – more than any other prosecutor in your incoming office. He is, very simply, a trial warrior – one who is irreplaceable and an immeasurable loss to your office and this county. That does not appear to concern you.”
In December, Tunheim confirmed that he would not renew the jobs of five deputy prosecuting attorneys, including Bruneau. Tunheim ran unopposed in the November election and in January, he replaced his former boss, Ed Holm, who did not seek re-election.
During an interview Wednesday, Tunheim said he is “a little disappointed” that the police unions are trying to “play a political card” to influence a personnel decision.
“I respect their opinion and their right to have an opinion, and I’m encouraged by their pledge to continue to work with us to combat crime and hold criminals accountable,” Tunheim said. “My request is that they keep an open mind and not make decisions based on my personnel decisions.”
The police unions’ letter to Tunheim was signed by Thurston County Deputy Sheriff’s Association President Dave Odegaard, Olympia Police Guild President John Tupper, Lacey Police Guild President David Miller and Tumwater Police Guild President Tygh Hollinger.
Bruneau is serving as a contract attorney as he prosecutes one last case – the first-degree murder trial of Robert Maddaus, accused in court papers of shooting Shaun Peterson blocks from the Capitol in November 2009 because he suspected Peterson had stolen a large amount of methamphetamine and cash from Maddaus’ home. The police unions’ letter to Tunheim notes that Bruneau agreed to prosecute the homicide “even though you’ve shunned him; he easily could have walked away, leaving you, your office and those you have pledged to serve in a disadvantaged position.”
Bruneau declined a prior request to comment on his employment status during the middle of a trial. After Maddaus’ trial recessed Wednesday, Bruneau again declined to comment.
“I’m focused on this trial,” he said.
The police unions’ letter ends on an ominous note: “That you’ve chosen not to renew his contract effectively eliminates our confidence in you as our prosecutor and your ability to make decisions based on factual information rather than personal feelings.”
“We remind you that you ran unopposed and many of us in law enforcement lent you our support, both publicly and privately,” the letter states. “ We pledge to work cooperatively with you to continue to combat crime and hold criminals accountable during your term. We will continue to work together to make this a safe place to live, work and raise children. Your decision to do away with a champion of public safety like David Bruneau will make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to support you in political endeavors in the future.”
The letter also states that “Mr. Bruneau in no way solicited this letter.”
Tunheim said he plans on reaching out to the various police unions in the coming days. But he added that the letter will not prompt him to change how he runs his office or makes personnel decisions.
“This decision didn’t have anything to do with David’s skills or abilities in the courtroom,” Tunheim said. “But the courtroom skills are only one component of what I’m looking for in a deputy prosecutor.”
Tunheim said he has hired three additional prosecutors to take over for those whose contracts were not renewed. Two more are expected to start work for the prosecutor’s office in February, he added.
Tunheim also rejected the notion that the office lacks experienced prosecutors with Bruneau’s impending absence.
“We’ve got a lot of trial experience in this shop other than David Bruneau,” he said. “We’ve got the experience and the talent that we need to be able to handle these cases.”
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 firstname.lastname@example.org