SPIRIT LAKE Pat Lawless resigned as Spirit Lake's police chief effective immediately on Wednesday, citing personal reasons. Mayor Todd Clary said three police department employees, including Lawless, had a conversation that was "not appropriate for the workplace" and the other two have been disciplined. None of the employees were fired. When asked if any criminal activity was found against Lawless, Clary said, "Absolutely not."
Clary declined to comment further, citing personnel reasons.
"Pat has been really good for the city," Clary said. "He's been strong into community policing and we need that in a small town. He's been very involved in the community. I understand his position and wish him the best."
Lawless, who has been Spirit Lake's chief for three years and was with the department for nearly six, couldn't be reached for comment on Wednesday. A phone call to his cell phone was answered, but the man said it was the wrong number. A subsequent call to the number immediately afterward was not answered.
Lawless, 37, was Spirit Lake's patrol sergeant for two and a half years before being promoted to chief to replace Wiley Ronnenberg, who resigned after three years at the helm to train police recruits in Afghanistan. Lawless has performed police work since 1996, previously working in Connecticut.
City sources said Lawless hasn't been at work all week, but Clary wouldn't say if Lawless had been placed on administrative leave during that time.
Spirit Lake City Council member Jimmy Brown Jr. said he heard that Lawless was in the process of being disciplined for an inappropriate conversation with two female police employees.
"He hasn't been in this week, then I saw (officer) Jeremy McMillan driving Pat's patrol car," Brown said. "That's when I made the conclusion that something was going on with Pat."
Clary said McMillan will take over some of the department's administrative duties until a chief is found, but stopped short of calling McMillan the interim chief because multiple employees will pitch in.
Clary said the city will accept applications for the position for about a month. The salary range is $20 to $24 an hour.
"We're probably looking at 60 days (to find a replacement)," Clary said.
Lawless was investigated for suspicion of child abuse earlier this year by police in Post Falls, where Lawless lives. Prosecutors decided not to pursue charges and the case was closed.
A tort claim filed by a former Spirit Lake police officer seeking $5 million alleges sexual harassment by Lawless and that Clary failed to take swift and appropriate action.
Clary declined to comment on the litigation, but added that Lawless is "very unhappy about the inaccuracy of a lot of accusations."