A Bremerton police officer will face no criminal charges for thrice punching a drunk, restrained man who spat in her face while he was being evaluated at Harrison Medical Center in May, but was fired from her job.
The police union representative for Michelle Lynn Griesheimer, 46, was given notice Thursday of her termination, according to a statement from Chief Steve Strachan.
Griesheimer was hired in February 2015. Her attorney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
An internal affairs review of the incident found Griesheimer had violated five rules and policies of the department, including violating the man’s constitutional rights, abusing her authority and not being honest.
“While it is reprehensible and a crime to spit in an officer’s face, your response to it showed a lack of self-control and vindictiveness,’ Strachan wrote in Griesheimer’s notice of discipline. “Police officers are trained to handle such provocations without resorting to physical force to punish and retaliate. Other police officers have been convicted of criminal assault in similar circumstances. The public expects more from us and they should.”
The Lakewood City Attorney’s office reviewed the case for a possible charge of fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor, but Assistant City Attorney Kimberly Cox wrote to Kitsap County prosecutors in an email that it was her belief that it was “highly unlikely” prosecutors could prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Kitsap prosecutors had requested Lakewood review the case to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest.
On May 25, Griesheimer arrested the man at the center of the case, Dennis J. Siggins, then 20, after he was accused of driving drunk and grabbing his wife's arm and pulling her out of a gas station restroom.
Another officer believed Siggins was extremely intoxicated and may have been refused admittance to the Kitsap County Jail, so officers took Siggins to the hospital for an evaluation.
During the evaluation, Siggins became increasingly unruly and belligerent until staff had his legs and arms restrained on a gurney. However, the straps were not sufficiently tight and allowed some movement, although Siggins was not capable of hitting or kicking anyone, according to witness statements.
As Siggins yelled and struggled against the restraints, staff became concerned he might tip over the gurney and injure himself or others. Griesheimer, two security guards and a medical tech attempted to hold Siggins still in order to put a chest strap in place.
Griesheimer was first holding Siggins by the hair, and then the shoulders, when he spit blood and saliva into Griesheimer’s face, according to reports.
According to the Bainbridge Police Department investigation of the incident, after being spit at, Griesheimer called Siggins a profanity and punched him three times in the face, bloodying his nose. Siggins calmed down and those struggling with him were able to properly restrain him.
During the investigation, Griesheimer first agreed to speak with the Bainbridge police detective conducting the inquiry but then declined through her attorney.
Siggins is listed as 5 feet 11 inches, 182 pounds. Griesheimer is listed as 6 feet 1 inches tall, 219 pounds.
When writing her report about the arrest and the incident at the hospital, Griesheimer initially reported she struck Siggins once in the face.
Later in her report, Griesheimer corrected herself.
“Until reading the security officers’ statements I had not realized I had actually punched Siggins three times in the face and head,” Griesheimer wrote, according to documents obtained through the state Public Records Act.
Strachan wrote in his notice to Griesheimer that she had been inconsistent in her initial statements and when questioned was not honest.
The incident came to the attention of the department when a superior of Griesheimer’s reviewed her report, saying her use of force raised a “red flag,” according to documents.
Siggins was initially charged in Kitsap County Superior Court with third-degree assault, a felony, for spitting at Griesheimer and fourth-degree assault for “dragging” his wife out of the gas station.
The charge for spitting was dismissed and his case was dropped down to Kitsap County District Court, where he was given diversion for a count of fourth-degree assault and drunken driving.
Siggins, who is in the Navy and is stationed aboard the USS Stennis, told the Kitsap Sun he thought Griesheimer was wrong to use that level of force on a person strapped to a gurney. However, he said he didn’t want Griesheimer charged or fired, especially after now knowing what it’s like going through a disciplinary process with the Navy.
“I’m too much of a nice guy,” he said, adding, “I don’t remember most of it anyway, I just remember my face hurting and my tooth hurting.”
Siggins said he had abstained from alcohol for four and a half years, but his marriage hit a rough patch and he started drinking that day.
“I was going through a divorce and everything, drowning my sorrows,” he said.
Following Griesheimer's termination, Strachan sent an email to officers notifying them.
“In my time here at BPD, I hope you have seen that we celebrate and reinforce officers who do right,” wrote Strachan, who is leaving the city at the end of the month to take a job with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “I also find that one of the best ways to support those who do it right is to hold accountable those who do not.”