Detective Loses Malicious Prosecution Claim

Gary Felt was a detective with the Bellevue, Washington Police Department for 24 years. Felt helped establish the peer counseling program. As part of the program, in December 2003, Felt met with Officer Heidi Moon, who told him she had been sexually assaulted by a fellow officer at her home in Renton. Felt urged Moon to file a criminal complaint with the Renton Police Department. Felt later learned that the Renton Police Department had declined to investigate Moon’s complaint.

On May 3, 2005, Felt retired from the Department. When he turned in his police gear to Officer Yong Ho Lee, an altercation occurred. The two were observed in loud argument. According to Lee, Felt pointed his gun at Lee’s head. According to Felt, he was angry and may have waved his weapon around by the barrel.

The Department subsequently conducted an internal affairs investigation of the incident. The lieutenant in charge of the investigation concluded that employee discipline was not warranted.

Lieutenant James Gasperetti then conducted a criminal investigation. Gasperetti concluded that there was probable cause to believe Felt committed second degree assault. The matter was referred to the King County Prosecutor’s Office, which declined to file charges.

The Department then referred the case to the Bellevue city attorney. Assistant City Attorney Jeffery Torrey filed misdemeanor assault charges against Felt. When Felt was acquitted of the charges, he brought a lawsuit against the City for retaliation and malicious prosecution.

The heart of Felt’s complaint was that he believed the decision to initiate criminal charges was in retaliation for his assisting Moon through the peer support program. The Washington Court of Appeals found that Felt failed to meet his burden of proving retaliation. The Court concluded that “there is nothing in the record to support Felt’s allegations that Gasperetti and Torrey were acting out of retaliatory motive. Torrey did not know Felt or Lee, and both Torrey and Gasperetti learned about Felt’s role in the Moon case only after they made their respective decisions. Both denied any effort to exert influence over them.

“It is undisputed that Lee, whether or not he initially wished to pursue it, had reported a crime, and he never retreated from his description of Felt’s conduct. A third party heard their loud argument. Felt’s account of the incident was consistent with Lee’s description except for his handling of the gun. Felt identifies no errors of fact in Gasperetti’s investigation. Whatever motives lay behind the encouragement of the investigation by the chain of command, there is nothing in the other evidence to suggest that Gasperetti or Torrey were influenced by bias on the part of the Police Chief or anyone else, and the facts supported their conclusions.”

Felt v. City of Bellevue, 2009 WL 1065877 (Wash. App. 2009).

This article appears in the June 2009 issue