Politics & Government

Corrections chief Eldon Vail abruptly resigns

OLYMPIA — The head of Washington’s corrections department abruptly resigned from his post Friday for what the governor’s office simply described as “personal reasons.”

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said he had no further details about the reason for Secretary Eldon Vail’s departure. Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement shortly after accepting Vail’s resignation that she has appointed state prisons director Bernie Warner as acting secretary.

“This is a loss to the State of Washington, the Department of Corrections and to me personally,” Gregoire said in a statement. Vail did not return a phone call left at his home. His brief resignation letter to Gregoire said he was resigning with “deep regret” but offered no details.

The departure came after a chaotic week in the department. The widows of two of the four slain Lakewood police officers filed a claim accusing the agency of bungling its supervision of the killer. And an escape attempt at Clallam Bay Corrections Center on Wednesday ended with a prisoner being fatally shot.

Meanwhile, the department has been investigating an ethics complaint filed by a state lawmaker accusing one of Vail’s top administrators, communications director Belinda Stewart, of improperly operating nonprofits from her office. State Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, has also complained that an investigation into a high-level staff member was being handled by other high-level staffers who might have a conflict of interest.

Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for Gregoire, said the resignation had nothing to do with the ethics investigation.

Warner, the new acting secretary, said he was saddened that Vail had decided to step down and that he hoped to provide the same level of leadership.

“This agency has a long history of overcoming challenges, and I know we will weather this situation with the same professionalism that I have seen time and again,” he wrote in a note to staff.

Gregoire appointed Vail as secretary in January 2008. He previously worked as superintendent at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, McNeil Island Corrections Center and Washington Corrections Center for Women.