A deputy’s dishonesty: How a Douglas County patrol officer fell into disgrace

8550
video

EAST WENATCHEE — It started with an $800 scratch to a Douglas County squad car. From there, it snowballed until it cost Deputy Travis Morley his career.

Morley joined the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in July 2017, when he was 30 years old. Sometime around Aug. 10, 2019, Morley’s new squad car apparently struck a delineator – one of those upright reflective strips that mark the edge of the highway shoulder.

At a vehicle training with fellow police officers Aug. 14, Morley told others how the delineator snapped back and dented his hood when he drove over it at high speed.

A reflective highway delineator. (Douglas County Sheriff’s Office)

But when he reported the accident to his superiors, he wasn’t able to clearly tell them where and how it happened. To find out, sheriff’s supervisors looked at recorded videos from Morley’s onboard vehicle cameras. They found several days’ worth of videos were missing from the device memory, including the day of the accident. Morley said he’d deleted them.

That was a violation of sheriff’s office policy, and on Aug. 19, Sheriff Kevin Morris ordered an internal investigation. The sergeant he assigned to look into the matter “believed that there was some honesty issues going on,” Morris said.

NCWLIFE obtained and reviewed video, audio, photographic and text records of the internal investigation, through a Public Records Act request. The records show that as Sgt. Jason DeMyer probed the vehicle damage, he found increasing evidence that Morley had lied to fellow officers and violated other sheriff’s office guidelines.

Supervisors had warned deputies just two months earlier never to delete the contents of their vehicle recorders. The devices are always recording, but they’re supposed to only capture sound when a deputy’s car is running with lights and sirens activated. Deputies manually offload these “alarmed” videos into a department database, as potential evidence. “Unalarmed” videos, recorded without sound, are set to overwrite themselves from the onboard device as storage fills up.

When Douglas County technicians examined Morley’s system, they found his settings were different. The device was set to the manufacturer’s default, and sound was recorded constantly on his car’s backseat camera.

Deputy Travis Morley

Morris said it’s unknown why Morley’s onboard system wasn’t toggled to Douglas County’s special settings. A technician was programming a number of the devices at the same time, and may have missed one, he said.

“We’ve told our folks, if you find that it’s happening you let us know, and we will delete the audio immediately,” Morris said. “Washington state’s two-party consent, and I expect to give our deputies that type of privacy.”

Despite a written policy not to interfere with car-cam equipment, and the recent warning from sheriff’s supervisors, Morley said he’d been deleting “unalarmed” videos because he didn’t want his private conversations and phone calls on record.

Technicians managed to recover more than 500 files Morley deleted, dating back to the first week of August. But none showed video from the accident that damaged his hood. A handful included erroneously-gathered audio such as RiverCom radio traffic, and parts of Morley’s conversations on a cellphone. One Aug. 8 video captured conversation from a detained suspect in Morley’s rear seat.

And while deleting unalarmed videos, Morley had deleted at least one “alarmed” file that was recorded while he was running lights and sirens to answer a call.

“It’s potential evidence,” Morris said of gathered car-cam video. “… Our cars are driving around our county all the time. And we truly believe that there will come a time when it will be handy for us in a criminal investigation, when we have a string of vehicle prowls or maybe a burglary, or God forbid a homicide, and our deputies drove around that area.”

Douglas County Sheriff Kevin Morris: Honesty is “by far, probably one of the most important traits that we have in law enforcement.”

DeMyer conducted three interviews with Morley, and several with other witnesses including fellow police officers. DeMyer said Morley gave false statements during their interviews, and multiple conflicting answers to questions.

“Aren’t we cops, factfinders and truthseekers?” he asked Morley during one October interview. “People of detail who write reports all the time about cases? And you’re telling me that you’re okay if you believe something one time that is not fact, and put it down on paper for everybody  to believe, until you’re called on it and then actually go check to see if that’s true or not?”

“At the point of time that I put it on paper, I believed it to be true,” Morley told him.

Morley also spoke to potential witnesses about the investigation while it was underway, despite official warnings not to. DeMyer soon learned that Morley carried on extensive text and voice communications on personal business, using his department cellphone. He made multiple calls and texts to a woman who was a witness in a major theft. DeMyer said the contact was inappropriate, and violated department policy on dealing with witnesses while a case is still open.

County phone records showed Morley used his department phone at nearly three times the rate of any Douglas County deputy. When DeMyer examined the phone itself, he found Morley had deleted the questionable calls and messages.

In his final report in late October, DeMyer said Morley committed 13 violations of sheriff’s department policies and directives, including tampering with car-cam video, mishandling vehicles and equipment, and lack of truthfulness. On Nov. 14, Morley resigned prior to a hearing with Sheriff Morris. Given the facts of the case, Morris said, he likely would have fired the deputy.

Morris said the only previous issue of officer dishonesty since he became sheriff in 2018 involved a probationary deputy, then in training at the Washington Basic Law Enforcement Academy. Morris fired the trainee after he was untruthful about inappropriate statements he’d made in front of witnesses in a class session.

“There’s a saying in our profession, certainly in this office — and we only say it because it rhymes — ‘If you lie, you die,'” Morris said. “And what that means is if you’re dishonest, you cannot be a law enforcement officer for us. That’s what it boils down to, because if we can’t trust you, how can we ask our citizens to trust you?”

Requests to Morley for comment, relayed through Facebook and through the union that represents Douglas County deputies, were not answered.