Crime

Longtime Lynden cop gets jail, house arrest for sexting teen

Former Lynden police officer Donald Merle Glunt.
Former Lynden police officer Donald Merle Glunt. The Bellingham Herald

A former Lynden cop must serve nine months of house arrest for sexting with a teenage girl, a Whatcom County judge ruled Tuesday, Sept. 1.

Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig overruled a plea deal that suggested a much shorter sentence of home detention and no jail time for Donald Merle Glunt, 59, an officer for the Lynden Police Department from 1979 to 2014.

Last year he resigned amid a child pornography scandal.

A Lynden police sergeant confronted Glunt in April 2014 about an unusual number of texts he sent from his work phone. Glunt had fired off 155 texts in two days to a phone with a Houston area code, records revealed. He admitted to the sergeant he’d been texting a “female” in Texas, and begged to get the phone back.

“I don’t want to pull the friendship card,” Glunt said, according to court records, “but I need to get information from the phone.”

The sergeant refused to give it back. Later police found racy images of women and three nude photos on the phone. Detectives tracked down the recipient of Glunt’s texts — a girl in Texas who had just turned 16. She reported she met Glunt through a role-playing chat room. They talked about sex. She sent him about 10 nude pictures, she said, and told Glunt she was 17. He sent her one picture of himself, clothed.

After his work phone was confiscated, Glunt continued to text the girl from his personal phone, court records show. He told her what to say if police contacted her, i.e., that she was 19 years old.

The Washington State Patrol took over the investigation.

Toward the end of his career Glunt gave public talks about child sex trafficking. He collected more than 5,000 risqué pictures of children for a PowerPoint presentation he gave around the state with anti-trafficking groups Hope4Justice and Not For Sale.

A Department of Corrections evaluator, Cassandra Kuestermeyer, concluded in a sex offender report that he used those presentations as a cover to search for sexual pictures of children on the Internet. Glunt, a patrol officer, had no experience doing sex crime investigations, outside of a three-day training session.

Forensic searches of his electronics turned up thousands of suggestive pictures of children, such as girls posing or undressing. Very few of those, however, met the definition of child pornography under state law, said Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Eric Richey.

Some did. One picture showed a child, aged 2 to 5, being raped, according to court records. Others showed scantily clad underage girls engaged in sex acts.

Close to a hundred printed photos of teenage girls, thought to be from the Lynden area, were found in Glunt’s work locker, according to court records. His wife found another stack of photos of young girls in his room. Police believe the pictures were printed from the girls’ Facebook pages.

Glunt confessed a common place for him to watch pornography was at a Starbucks in Lynden, with his back to the wall.

“Mr. Glunt doesn’t seem to understand,” the sex offender report states, “that viewing pornography in public, searching for images of children engaged in sexual acts, saving the images of these children, and printing a collection of Facebook photos of young girls is unacceptable behavior.”

Glunt pleaded guilty as charged to a single count of possessing sexual depictions of minors.

The standard range for the crime is three to nine months in jail, but the plea deal reached by the prosecutor and Glunt’s private attorney, Mark Kaiman, suggested a sentence of 45 days of house arrest. The shorter sentence, Richey said, was not a sweetheart deal for a former police officer.

“He’s not a police officer,” Richey said in court. “He’s a criminal, by definition.”

Rather, he said, Glunt has treatable but incurable gastrointestinal cancer, and keeping him in jail would cost $20,000 per month for medications alone, an expense he didn’t want to burden taxpayers with. Taxpayers don’t have to cover medical costs if the inmate serves time on house arrest, he said.

Judge Uhrig, who has treatable but incurable cancer himself, requested sealed medical records and extra time to consider whether Glunt could, or should, serve time in jail.

Meanwhile the girl struggled in the aftermath of the crime: She was bullied in school, dropped out, became pregnant, and showed signs of an eating disorder, according to her mother’s statements to the Department of Corrections. The girl’s mother thought the sentence was far too light.

“(Her mother) doesn’t want to throw the book at (Glunt) but feels he should be sentenced to some time in jail,” Kuestermeyer wrote, “even if it is only 10 days.”

This week Uhrig ruled that 45 days of house arrest would be “inadequate.” He ordered Glunt to serve 10 days of his sentence behind bars, unless the jail finds him medically unfit. The remainder of a nine-month sentence will be served under house arrest.

Glunt also served as a firefighter for more than 20 years. He will have to register as a sex offender upon his release.

“This is a shattered, broken man who has paid a heavy price for what he’s done,” Kaiman told the judge.

Glunt gave a brief apologetic statement to the judge Tuesday.

“I’m disgusted with myself,” he said, “and will always live with that shame.”

Because he resigned from his job, Glunt continues to receive a pension of more than $3,000 a month from the city of Lynden.

He has long-term plans to move to Florida and write books: histories, a biography of his father, and an autobiography.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bhamcaleb.

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