By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A Chehalis police officer resigned in the midst of investigations into possible misconduct during his assignment as a school resource officer involving a high school student.
Officer Jeff Elder quit the department last month, as his superiors were preparing to launch an internal investigation into whether he violated ethical standards and policies involving alleged sexual contact with a girl from W.F. West High School.
A criminal investigation was completed at the end of July and the prosecutor determined no crime occurred and no charge should be filed. If a crime did occur, the statute of limitations has passed, Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Colin Hayes wrote in a memo to the investigating detective.
The allegations came at the end of June from a now-22-year-old woman who disclosed incidents that occurred when she was a freshman and a sophomore, according to law enforcement incident reports.
Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer said the planned internal investigation won’t be done now.
“Jeff’s resignation was completely voluntary,” Schaffer said. “The reason we did not get into an administrative review is he resigned before it began.”
Schaffer said this week he wouldn’t speculate as to whether any department rules had been broken, as those answers could only come from a review.
The allegations came to light when the young woman reported to the Mason County Sheriff’s Office in June she may have been drugged and raped, and then also mentioned an unrelated incident, that years earlier she had an intimate encounter with a law enforcement officer – she said she was certain she was 14 or 15 years old when it happened, according to documents from the Mason County Sheriff’s Office.
They contacted the Chehalis Police Department, which in turn asked the Washington State Patrol to investigate.
State patrol detectives concluded the encounter in question, sexual intercourse, at Elder’s home occurred days after the girl’s 16th birthday in 2005.
According to case documents, the girl – whose identity is blacked out – had left W.F. West midway through her sophomore year and moved to Thurston County, but sometimes babysat for the Elder’s children.
She said she met and came to to know Elder when she was a freshman and he was the school resource officer.
In a transcript of her interview with a Mason County sheriff’s detective she describes Elder as tapping or grabbing her buttocks “often” at school (and once at the police department), sneaking her through the back into school dances and and one time bringing animal crackers to her when she was at home and suspended from school.
She also told of a time when she was at the Elder’s home with his wife and children when he allegedly pushed her against a wall and started “making out” with her.
She described the same day, across the street at a baseball field, the two had “wrestled” for her purse and he kissed her “really quick.”
She told the detective Elder gave her his old handcuffs as a gift.
He would also say to her a lot “You make me hard” and also, “You know, 16′s the age of consent”, she told the detective.
Elder, now 41, declined to comment.
Elder was the school resource officer until the end of March 2004, according to Schaffer, while she was a freshman.
She graduated from high school in 2007.
Elder had asked to step down at the same time he was reprimanded for taking two female students off campus so one could pick up her homework and making a traffic stop with the girls in his car, according to documents from the Chehalis Police Department.
He was suspended for two days. At the time, the high school principal told Elder’s superior she hoped Elder would still continue with that assignment.
The school resource officer works primarily at the high school as a resource for the school district and a representative for the police department, interacting with the students, according to Schaffer. They’re there to teach and be a positive role model, he said.
Officer Troy Thornburg had been in the position the past several years, but last year because of budget issues, the program was put on hold.
Both Schaffer and Chehalis School District Superintendent Ed Rothlin this week gave both Thornburg and the program high praise and said if it weren’t for the finances, they would continue it and hope to in the future.
The young woman who made the allegations couldn’t be reached for an interview.
Also in the state patrol’s investigation is a letter from the young woman’s husband, that says he is deployed in Afghanistan, and asks them to write a letter to get him a compassionate reassignment to Joint Base Lewis McChord so he can be back by his wife’s side as quickly as possible during this time.
A sergeant of the investigating state patrol detective said yesterday he didn’t know if such a letter had been generated.
A sergeant at the Mason County Sheriff’s Office said the young woman’s other allegation – that she may have been drugged and raped in an unrelated case – was investigated and their prosecutor declined to file any charges.
Elder started with the police department in November 1994, was put on administrative leave July 7 and resigned Aug. 17.