New police command staff for WSU Pullman campus appointed

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PULLMAN, Wash. — The top-ranking members of the WSU Pullman Police Department’s command staff are retiring following initiation of disciplinary action for failing to advise university leadership of a 2020 departmental investigation involving an officer alleged to have engaged in sexual activities while on duty.

Police Chief Bill Gardner, Assistant Chief Steve Hansen and Capt. Mike Larsen formally advised the university of their intent to retire in lieu of possible termination after being served notice in late July of pending disciplinary action. The university is reporting these matters to the state agency that certifies law enforcement officers in Washington. 

Disciplinary proceedings are pending against WSU Police Sgt. Matt Kuhrt, the officer alleged to have engaged in inappropriate activity while on duty and on Pullman campus property. The university has yet to make any determinations of responsibility in the officer’s case. Kuhrt has been on home assignment since March 2022 when the earlier allegations were first brought to the attention of university leaders by concerned WSU Police Department employees, and joint investigations by the office of Compliance and Civil Rights (CCR) and Human Resource Services (HRS) were launched.

“These are positions of great public trust and WSU will not tolerate this kind of behavior nor the negligence of departmental command staff,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “When university leadership recently became aware of these allegations and the questionable way they had been handled earlier within the department, we immediately initiated a full investigation.”

Gary Jenkins, retired chief of the City of Pullman’s police department, has agreed to serve as interim chief of the WSU Police Department. WSU Police Sgt. Dawn Daniels, who served temporarily as acting chief, will be promoted to assistant chief. Victoria Murray, executive director for finance and administration, is serving as acting associate vice president for public safety.

“We expect the highest degree of integrity and character within our police force and WSU is thankful for the commitment these individuals have shown in stepping up to help,” said Vice President for Finance and Administration Stacy Pearson, who also oversees public safety. “The entire WSU community is fortunate to have leaders with this kind of experience and willingness to serve.”

Back in December 2020, a WSU police officer notified WSU Police Department command staff of third-hand allegations against Kuhrt. The officer had received information from a third party who initially advised of possible nonconsensual sexual activity, but who contacted the officer again the next day to clarify that it had been consensual, though it occurred while Kuhrt was on duty.

Despite the nature and seriousness of the claims, which included reports of sexual activities in the presidential suite at Martin Stadium and at the WSU Observatory, the command staff failed to advise CCR as required by WSU policy.

Instead, the WSU police command staff conducted a departmental investigation and was ultimately unable to locate a witness willing to file a complaint against the officer. The investigation concluded that there was not enough evidence to take substantial personnel action. The officer did, however, face departmental action for misconduct while on duty. 

It wasn’t until March of this year that university leaders learned about the December 2020 allegations and the internal police department investigation when a WSU police officer brought the matter to their attention. That’s when the joint investigations by CCR and HRS were launched. As part of that process, the university placed Kuhrt on home assignment.

On July 15, based on the results of the joint investigations, the duties of the chief, assistant chief and captain were reassigned to others, and the three members of the department’s command staff were placed on home assignment. Shortly thereafter, the university advised the command staff that disciplinary proceedings were being initiated against them based on the investigation’s findings that they exhibited gross misconduct, incompetence, and neglect of duty in their response to the claims of sexual misconduct involving the officer.

All three members of the command staff announced their retirement before the formal disciplinary process concluded, and are helping to ensure an orderly leadership transition. The findings of the joint investigations will remain in their WSU records and be available to future employers should they seek employment elsewhere.

Disciplinary proceedings against Kuhrt are continuing and will include a formal hearing conducted in conformity with Title IX, which is the federal regulation prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex in educational programs and settings. The university has made no final determinations related to the officer, who is presumed not responsible until the hearing process is completed.

Jenkins began serving as interim chief of the university’s police department this week. He spent much of his law enforcement career in Southern California, including leadership roles in patrol and investigative divisions as well as departmental operations, before relocating to Pullman in 2010 to serve as the city’s police chief.

Daniels, who temporarily served as acting chief of the university’s police department, is serving as assistant chief. She is a 1997 WSU graduate who has held various roles of increasing responsibility within the university police department since 2004.

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