Letter to the editor: Inappropriate comments by police officer deserve scrutiny 


Given the deep concerns I personally experienced earlier this year when watching local police stand back as a group of self-professed neo-Nazi agitators attempted to incite a riot at local Pride events, I have been doing some research about the tolerance of discriminatory behavior within leadership positions of the Centralia Police Department (CPD) that I would like the public to be aware of.

In late 2020, an incident occurred in a CPD leadership meeting where a current sergeant made inappropriate comments about queer people, specifically referring to Oscar Wilde, using an offensive slur and other disparaging terms in a minutes-long tirade. Chief Stacy Denham, declared 2024 candidate for county commissioner, allegedly reprimanded this verbally at the time and warned such behavior would not be tolerated. 

The following year, a former employee filed a complaint about alleged discrimination. Centralia then retained an outside attorney to conduct an investigation of the series of complaints and determine whether there was any wrongdoing on Denham’s part. Regarding this specific homophobic tirade, the report mentions Mr. Denham acted within policy and a verbal reprimand of a first offense would be considered reasonable to deter such behavior in the future.

However, the report also mentions in a footnote that the behavior was in fact not deterred as “information was obtained that another incident occurred after September 2020 in which Clary made an inappropriate joke in the lunchroom. Denham admonished Clary for this and advised HR.” Seeing this reference, I reached out to the City of Centralia, which was unable to provide any documentation of this second incident ever actually being documented with human resources. I then reached out to the report writer directly hoping for clarity. In the two weeks since, I have received no such response.

Though the report states Mr. Denham admonishing the homophobic tirade was within policy and an acceptable form of discipline for a “joke,” the report later notes in another footnote related to other concerns that “comments that are inappropriate under discrimination and other workplace rules are rarely excused, if ever, by an explanation that the joke teller was just joking.” That’s  certainly an interesting footnote to include in a report excusing “joking” behavior a few pages prior.

Centralia and its agents are unable to provide clarity regarding the repeated offense or whether it was actually disciplined or documented. This should deeply concern the community, not just as an equitable policing concern, but a local leadership concern.

Commissioner candidate Denham will say this is a personal agenda — it’s a familiar trope he has thrown at critics and other letter writers. I will not shy away from the label of “personal agenda” if that agenda is opposing someone with a history of leadership failures not just in tolerating, but flat out perhaps covering up, homophobic behaviors within his department when failing to document or discipline repeated offenses. 

Lewis County already has enough discriminatory commissioners. We don’t need another. 


Kyle Wheeler