ABERDEEN — A Grays Harbor District Court judge declined to approve a protection order Tuesday afternoon that would have forced Elma Mayor Dave Osgood and his son-in-law to stay away from an Elma firefighter, after she made allegations that they were stalking her.
Elma firefighter Kirsten Walshe, 24, is currently on administrative leave pending a city investigation into allegations that she has been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace she made back in September. Walshe said days after she made the allegations of her fellow firefighters making phallic jokes and lewd comments about sexual situations, Osgood, his son-in-law Josh Collette and another firefighter, whom Osgood described as “practically a son,” began following her and keeping track of where she was.
She allegedly watched Osgood drive by her house six times one night and stop in front of it at least twice for several minutes, watching her residence while she and friends were home. Osgood said it’s a small town and he had a lot to do that night, including picking up his 15-year-old grandson and his date from Homecoming and traveling to a fire call that night. He denied the allegations.
She filed for protection orders against Osgood and his son-in-law earlier this month, but not the third firefighter involved. After a two-and-a-half-hour-long hearing on Tuesday involving multiple witnesses, including Osgood and Walshe, Grays Harbor District Judge Tom Copland denied the protection orders.
Walshe said she’s “scared” and has gone to stay at her father’s house in another county just to “escape the harassment.”
Walshe’s attorney Chris Crew told the judge, “All I need to get across is that Kirsten rightfully felt intimidated, that right after she comes forward with her sexual harassment complaints to the station she’s being followed all evening and her friends are being followed and her house is being watched by both the mayor and his son-in-law, who she specifically is bringing the sexual harassment complaint against. It looks like a retaliatory stalking and it’s hard to see it otherwise.”
“It doesn’t look to me like that,” Copland told Crew, denying the motion. “It looks to me like the lawsuits against the city of Elma has had more affect on the parties in this case than they might realize. Not only in terms of the way this case has been presented to me, but in terms of the way the plaintiffs have proceeded with the supposed actions of the defendants in this case. This is a very thin case in terms of stalking or intimidation. There has been allegedly three separate incidents by three different people and, just putting this altogether, I’m not seeing a pattern of conduct here directed at a specific incident. The evidence is just too thin.”
Walshe is the widow of Army soldier Tyler Walshe, a machine gunner who died in 2009 when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan. She’s an Elma High School graduate, who moved back home to be closer to family. She was recently honored by veterans and the community when the replica Vietnam Wall was brought to Elma and rang the bell for firefighters, who had died recently during a special ceremony.
“My husband, before he passed away, wanted to be a firefighter someday,” Walshe said. “That’s why I’m doing this. It’s fun to be able to help people, it’s gratifying. But, now I’m scared. I’m terrified of what could happen next.”
On Oct. 15, Walshe was placed on administrative leave by Fire Chief Dave Spalding.
“I have received notification of a no-contact order and your concerns about your safety,” Spalding wrote to Walshe. “After consulting with and being advised by our attorney, I am putting you on administrative leave until we have an investigation done regarding your claim.”
Mayor Osgood said that the city has contacted its insurance and risk pool, which will contract out with a third, independent party and conduct an investigation into all of Walshe’s allegations.
“We take her allegations seriously,” Osgood said.
But Walshe and Crew, her attorney, note that the allegations were made weeks ago and they don’t believe any steps were really taken until they sought the protection order.
On Sept. 24, Walshe wrote a letter to Chief Spalding describing several incidents of sexual innuendos made in the workplace that she found inappropriate.
“On one occasion, a male firefighter voiced that he had ‘dick slapped me the night before,’ insinuating that he and I had a sexual encounter the previous evening, a remark that was greeted with laughter from firefighters in the immediate vicinity and the offender received a ‘high five’…,” Walshe wrote.
She followed up with another letter on Oct. 10 asking why a promised sexual harassment training had not yet been done and why none of the firefighters had been put on leave.
“We were promised a class and it didn’t materialize,” Walshe said.
During testimony on Tuesday, Walshe said she was surprised to be the only one out on leave. Crew questioned Spalding about this on cross examination.
“She felt threatened so you put her on administrative leave rather than the people who were threatening her?”
“I have firefighters that show up all the time,” Spalding said. “Ms. Walshe shows up very few times, when you look at the records. It seems that all of my better firefighters are being attacked.”
Spalding said that the harassment training will happen and firefighters have already been given reprimands for their comments.
Osgood and Collette were both represented by City Attorney Dan Glenn, who consistently objected during the hearing because Walshe’s witnesses were using speculation and hearsay. Judge Copland ruled that the state Supreme Court allows speculation and hearsay in the lower court for a case like this.
Walshe said that there’s been more awareness of her activities when she comes to the Elma Fire Department since she made her sexual harassment allegations in September. But she noted that her boyfriend was dismissed from the fire department in July and that’s when she said she was no longer allowed to be alone in the fire station.
“I am not allowed to be at the station alone because the mayor isn’t comfortable with me there,” she said.
Osgood alleged that the actions were being brought forth against him and his family as retaliation for terminating her boyfriend. Crew has not yet filed a claim for damages against the city of Elma, but he said after the hearing on Monday that one is forthcoming.
“I do believe they’re building a case,” Osgood testified. “We’re the city of Elma. We have deep pockets. I’ve never said a harsh word to her. I’ve never done anything to her.”
Osgood and his daughter testified that the stalking behavior alleged against him was unjustified, explaining that it’s a small town with one main street and Walshe lives on it, just outside of town. Osgood drove back and forth multiple times. But Walshe and her witnesses described Osgood’s behavior as “creepy” and said it didn’t make any sense why he would stop near Walshe’s house. At one point, they say, he changed cars and continued the behavior. Osgood says it was all a big coincidence.
Collette was also alleged to have followed one of Walshe’s friends, who was driving her car, into town. Walshe’s friend testified to this incident. And then Collette allegedly started following Walshe once she was seen in town. Collette and his wife both testified that he was just driving around town, going to the post office and “killing time” because their daughter was trying to get to sleep and would get too excited to see daddy come home.
“Did you intend to stalk Ms. Walshe?” Glenn asked Collette.
“No,” he replied.
“Did you intend to intimidate her?”
“No,” he replied. Collette added later, “I can’t remember everything I did that evening because there was no purpose. I didn’t say, ‘You know what, I think my fellow firefighter is going to allege that I was stalking her, I better remember everything I did that night so I have an alibi.’”
Questioning Walshe, Glenn pointed out that at one point she had made a crude statement about sexual orientation to one of her male firefighters.
“Maybe in joking,” Walshe said.
“Joking? So with you, it’s joking. To someone else, it’s sexual harassment. Is that correct?”
“Yes, it would be,” she replied.
Crew has also filed for protection orders in Thurston County District Court, but says he’ll be pulling those back now that this matter was denied by Judge Copland.
Walshe has also filed a police report on the alleged stalking behavior with the Elma Police Department.
On Monday, Walshe came to the Elma City Council meeting and spoke briefly during public comment to inform the council what was happening.
Immediately after, the council went into executive session to discuss personnel issues involving the fire department.