Local

Cop has alleged history of domestic violence. Here’s what Bellingham Police knew

A frame grab of Bellingham Police Cpl. Brooks Laughlin pulled from police body camera footage filmed on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.
A frame grab of Bellingham Police Cpl. Brooks Laughlin pulled from police body camera footage filmed on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A third Bellingham Police officer who was arrested for alleged assaultive behavior in just as many years apparently has a history of domestic violence issues and the Bellingham Police Department knew about it, according to records obtained by The Bellingham Herald.

Cpl. Brooks Owen Laughlin, 33, of Everson, was arrested Feb. 10 on suspicion of criminal trespassing – domestic violence. Records show Bellingham Police were made aware of Laughlin’s behavior in January 2017, at least, after Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of domestic violence involving Laughlin and a woman known to him. Everson Police officers also responded to Laughlin’s home in the 1000 block of Ridge Lane at least once in the last year on a report of domestic issues, records show.

BPD had also been notified of an incident the day before his arrest when Laughlin allegedly threatened to shoot a woman in the face, and then later responded while he was on duty to a welfare check that was called on the woman, records show. Some sheriff’s deputies and the woman’s family however, have had concerns about Laughlin’s conduct since 2015, according to records.

The woman’s father and brother had spoken to a sheriff’s deputy “about some issues revolving around Brooks and (the woman) in the past year. On multiple occasions they have reported to Law Enforcement odd behavior and controlling tactics Brooks uses to monitor (the woman’s) activities,” according to records. The woman’s father “stated he is not sure what Brooks is capable of and he has felt that way for a long time,” according to the records obtained by The Herald.

An independent assessment

Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said Friday she leaves the running of city departments to the department heads, and that until Laughlin’s arrest, no one had made her aware of issues concerning his conduct.

Linville said in addition to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office investigation, an outside independent person identified by the city’s legal office will be conducting an assessment of the department’s specific policies that would deal with the recent arrests of two of its officers, and the firing of another. Linville said the assessment will help her determine whether the department needs to look at changing their policies.

“It’s a review to make sure everything is in place. … I think it’s fair for the residents and everyone to have an independent party do the investigation. I feel very confident that they will do a thorough investigation,” Linville said. “As mayor that’s my job to make sure the system is working. I have always been very confident that the Bellingham Police officers are well trained, perform well and if there is a problem, we take care of it. That’s the expectation on this or any other incident we might have.”

On March 2, Bellingham Police Chief David Doll issued a community statement saying the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office would be investigating the incidents and the department was committed to transparency.

Doll said in an emailed statement Friday the department had received records from other agencies that included allegations of domestic violence by Laughlin, but the allegations weren’t sustained. The records are part of the ongoing administrative investigation and process review though, Doll said.

“The allegations of misconduct by Corporal Laughlin involve multiple Whatcom County law enforcement agencies and different incidents. Accordingly, I have requested assistance from an agency outside of Whatcom County to ensure that there is no conflict of interest, and that there is no appearance of a conflict of interest, with respect to our administrative investigation,” Doll said. “We have previously referred administrative investigations to outside agencies and we will continue to do so where appropriate.”

Laughlin has received one complaint regarding his on-duty conduct during his 13-year career and an investigator determined Laughlin’s actions were “justified and lawful,” Doll said. Laughlin has received no letters of reprimand or disciplinary action, he added.

BPD will be partnering with a local domestic violence organization to review policies and practices to identify gaps and close them, Doll said. The department is also conducting a process review to determine how to better respond to allegations of misconduct by its officers, he said.

“The Department did respond appropriately to the one complaint that we received about Corporal Laughlin’s on-duty conduct. However, recent events have led us to review our policies and practices with respect to allegations of domestic violence involving our officers,” Doll said. “We will continuously work to improve our policies and practices to ensure that our Department continues to meet our mission of service to the community.”

Safety concerns and an arrest

In early February, the woman’s mother contacted her through a blocked number and left a voicemail saying she wanted to see her. The woman later came for a visit at the family house in Sumas. The woman had been estranged from her family for six or more months because Laughlin and her family did not get along, according to the records.

While there, Laughlin continuously texted the woman until the pair spoke on the phone. Laughlin called again shortly after, and the woman’s father answered. Laughlin was screaming on the phone and the woman’s father said “he was concerned because Brooks sounded out of control,” according to the records. The woman left soon after to meet Laughlin.

Laughlin 2
A frame grab of Bellingham Police Cpl. Brooks Laughlin pulled from police body camera footage filmed on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. Bellingham Police Department Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Later, the woman was hysterically crying, called her parents and then her brother. She told her brother Laughlin was upset she had visited her parents without him and he threatened her.

According to the records obtained by The Herald, “at the end of the argument she asked Brooks, ‘Are you going to hit me in the face again?’, and Brooks replied, ‘No, I’m going to shoot you in the (expletive) face.” The woman said “she was afraid Brooks was going to come find her because he had the ability to track her phone,” records show.

Her brother requested a welfare check on her and deputies responded to the gas station she was at in Bellingham. In that time, Laughlin sent the woman a series of texts mentioning suicide, were demeaning in nature and then one that said he was going to find her, according to the records.

As sheriff’s deputies were conducting an interview with the woman, Laughlin showed up in his patrol vehicle to the welfare check while on duty as a Bellingham Police officer, records show. Laughlin was “sent home from his shift early, and would not be working the next several days due to his normally scheduled days off,” according to the records.

An agreed upon safety plan was put in place – the woman was to stay with her parents and Laughlin was not to contact them throughout the weekend. Throughout the evening, Laughlin continued to text the woman and she didn’t respond, according to the records.

The next morning, Laughlin showed up at the family home in the 3700 block of Clearbrook Road, refused to leave and was later arrested at his home. Officers had staged Border Patrol agents outside his home to wait nearby as the officer “was going to the house alone and didn’t know what to expect when he got there,” according to the records.

In interviews with family members, several told deputies they were concerned for the woman’s safety. She had been seen with black eyes on previous occasions, and there had been allegations that Laughlin hit her, used her phone and installed cameras to track her whereabouts, isolated her from her friends and family, threatened to commit suicide and “used this as manipulation,” threatened to hurt her and controlled who she saw and when, according to the records.

One of the deputies “told her these were classic signs of manipulation and power and control seen in domestic violence relationships and his behaviors were escalating and I was afraid for her safety … and her family’s safety,” records state.

The woman told the deputy Laughlin only hit her in a consensual way, during rough sex or while the pair were wrestling or doing jiujitsu, according to the records.

Laughlin’s children from a previous marriage had also disclosed to deputies they had seen incidents that were concerning, according to the records.

Laughlin’s trial is tentatively scheduled for April 23.

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt

Resources

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County:

▪  24 Hour Helpline - 360-715-1563

▪  Administrative Line - 360-671-5714

▪  Email: info@dvsas.org

Related stories from Bellingham Herald

  Comments