Woodland settles suit

Jody Wattier discusses her case filed against the city of Woodland during an interview at The Daily News on Tuesday.

A former Woodland woman who accused a now-retired Woodland police officer of abusing his police power to stalk, threaten and improperly investigate her has settled her lawsuit against him for $275,000.

But Jody Wattier called it a painful victory. “The money is not going to make it any better. I struggle every day.”

She said she lost custody of her children, aged 9 and 10, and had to rebuild her life because officer Brad Gillaspie orchestrated a campaign of intimidation and slander against her while she was divorcing her husband, who was Gillaspie’s friend.

“No one would listen to me. So I looked crazy,” she said Tuesday. “I (still) have to make a decision at this point in my life (whether) to go see my kids at school, or not have anxiety. I literally can’t go into Woodland, because I’m afraid of running into Murray, or Gillaspie. … It was like a death to me. I grieved my career. And then I grieved my house, my safety. And then I grieved for my kids. What else do you take from someone?”

Woodland City Manager Peter Boyce confirmed that Woodland’s insurer will pay the settlement, reached in September. He said the city itself had no role in the settlement and was not held liable. He lauded the city’s current policing.

“We have a new police chief now,” Boyce said. “He’s implemented his own policies in the department and we’re very satisfied with what he’s done. I think in general, the city’s happy it’s behind us. We’re looking to the future to provide great police service to the community.”

The settlement concludes a federal civil rights lawsuit Wattier filed two years ago in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. Wattier and her Portland attorney, Sean Riddell, accused Gillaspie and current officer Brent Murray of maliciously investigating her. She also accused the city and former Mayor Grover Laseke of failing to intervene to stop Gillaspie’s actions.

The lawsuit alleged that Gillaspie, who was close friends with Wattier’s ex-husband Steve Petersen, harassed and intimidated her for a period of about a year while she was separating from Petersen. That alleged harassment included instigating a police investigation with the goal of harming her employment with a Portland-area police agency and giving Petersen an advantage in custody hearings for their children.

An investigation by Murray recommended charges of malicious mischief and telephone harassment against Wattier, but the city prosecutor declined to file them.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton dismissed Wattier’s complaints against all defendants except for Gillaspie in August 2017. He ruled that officer Murray’s investigation, which he was ordered to undertake, not biased. Leighton dismissed the city and Laseke as defendants because he found no evidence that either had a policy or practice that deprived her of her civil rights.

But he wrote a blistering criticism of Gillaspie and denied the officer’s request to dismiss most of her claims.

“Gillaspie’s actions do amount to an egregious constitutional violation. By stalking (Wattier’s) home, threatening her, belatedly initiating an investigation that resulted in her losing her job, lying to (a court appointed divorce investigator) about her parental abilities, and tarnishing her reputation in the community, Gillaspie egregiously influenced and interfered with Petersen’s divorce and child custody proceedings.”

“A reasonable jury,” Leighton concluded, “could find he was motivated by malice and a perverse sense of friendship, not by some ethical sense of duty.”

Hearing that quote for the first time was a watershed moment of validation, Wattier said Tuesday.

“I remember where I was,” she said. “I was out hiking for four days. I remember pulling off the side of the road and crying. … It’s such a great example of someone wording things that I could not, and that I didn’t have a voice for. I recovered in my career not because what Brad did to me wasn’t egregious, but because of who I am. And the woman that I am. And the strength that I had. … (Leighton) gave me my voice. (Riddell) gave me my voice.”

During an interview with a court agent for Petersen and Wattier’s custody dispute, Gillaspie admitted to driving by her house on-duty but said he did so to “check on her and the family.”

Wattier, who has remarried and lives in Tacoma while working in the state Attorney General’s office, was a police officer herself in North Plains, Oregon. She said she resigned from the department in June 2015 after talking to her chief about how the investigations into her had complicated her job.

Neither Gillaspie, who retired from the department in June 2017, nor Steve Petersen returned requests for comment. But in trying to dismiss the case against his client, Gillaspie’s attorney wrote in August that Wattier hadn’t proved that Gillaspie’s actions were part of an official police investigation. In other words, Gillaspie claimed he was not acting under his authority as a police officer, and he called Wattier’s claims “baseless.”

Riddell said Tuesday that the Woodland police department knew Gillaspie was a problem. In Riddell’s 2017 complaint and demand for a jury trial, he cited several accusations from former police officer David Plaza, who was fired in 2015 and filed a suit against the city for wrongful termination.

Plaza claimed a history of inappropriate and sexist behavior by Gillaspie in his notice, such as:

  • On two separate occasions, taking a juvenile female’s phone into his office and viewing her private, sexually explicit photographs. Afterwards, officers began locking up cellphones so Gillaspie couldn’t access them, Plaza claimed.
  • Making sexually inappropriate comments to women who participated in the ride-along program.
  • Making a sexually inappropriate comment about a deceased woman to another officer within ear shot of the deceased woman’s family.

Then-chief Phil Crochet resigned in 2016. Current police chief Jim Kelly deferred to Boyce for comments on the story, citing his ascension to the role after the events listed in the lawsuit.

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