Sheriff’s department is under fire | Editorial

We trust them to serve and protect. But what happens when a group of people claim a police officer abused his power?

It is hard to know exactly what occurred on Dec. 24 in downtown Friday Harbor. Officer Felix Menjivar says he was just doing his job. But a handful of witnesses are claiming the deputy acted inappropriately aggressive while stopping a trailer loaded up with carolers. It’s been the topic of heated discussion in our online papers.

We understand Menjivar was adhering to traffic laws and hoping to prevent a tragedy. Yet one witness recounted, “The other officer held the lunging officer back with two arms on him and his head down like a blocker for the Seahawks, I repeat, held him back as if in a barroom brawl, but this officer has a weapon. I have never seen such wanton lack of training or professionalism from an armed officer.”

This isn’t the first time complaints have been voiced against the sheriff’s department. In 2006, Menjivar, along with another deputy, was involved in an altercation with two Lopez brothers. At a town hall meeting in Friday Harbor last spring, a handful of citizens brought up routine traffic stops for minor infractions and displeasure over deputy decorum during those stops.

At the time, San Juan County Sheriff Rob Nou said personnel complaints are handled on a case-by-case basis, not in public forums.

We don’t agree with the name-calling featured in some of the community’s online discussions of this incident. However, we do hope Sheriff Nou takes an in-depth look at the conduct of his deputies. We can’t know all the details of these incidents, but when a group of people make these kind of accusations, it’s time to pay attention.

We rely on officers of the law to diffuse – not escalate – potentially dangerous situations.