Campbell back on the job, sort of

Published on Thu, Nov 21, 2002
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Campbell back on the job, sort of

North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services (NWFRS) chief Mike Campbell is returning to some of his duties as commissioners struggle to take care of business, waiting to see if county prosecutors will charge Campbell with child molestation.

“He hasn’t been charged with anything,” said fire district 13 commissioner and NWFRS board secretary Bill Salter. “We can’t go on waiting for months. We need a chief.”

Campbell was arrested on October 8 on suspicion of raping a young girl while he served as the Point Roberts fire chief. The child, who lives outside the jurisdiction, first disclosed the alleged rape to a counselor. The assault is alleged to have occurred in 1999 when the girl was 13-years-old and was on an extended visit to Campbell’s Point Roberts home.
After an initial interview with police October 7, Campbell was booked into jail he next day and released on his own recognizance.

While Superior Court records indicate appearances had been scheduled for October 11 and 25, they did not occur. Deputy county prosecutor David Graham said that’s because no charges have been filed against Campbell. “We haven’t decided to file or not to file,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you why. We will make a comment when we file or when we decide not to.” He objected to describing the case as stalled, preferring to describe it as an ongoing investigation. “I have 30 pending cases and this is treated like every other case.”

County prosecutor David McEachran said there had been an initial consultation between prosecutors and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office prior to Campbell’s arrest. “They can make an arrest if they feel they have probable cause. We will sometimes wait if we need more information,” he said. He said they will look beyond probable cause to determine whether or not they have enough evidence to get a conviction.

Salter said Campbell, who has been on paid administrative leave, would return to some of his administrative duties, specifically the 2003 budgets for the three fire districts in NWFRS. “We don’t know which direction to go,” Salter said. “If this drags out much longer we’ll need to do something. We need to do what’s best for the district but you hate to terminate someone on an allegation. If he was charged with something it would be different.” Salter said if Campbell was charged his leave would no longer be paid and they would look at replacing him as chief.

Graham said there was no new date set for Campbell to appear in court, and that the county was not legally compelled to charge Campbell within a set time period following arrest. “When people are out of custody we don’t really have a set limit,” he said. “It’s basically the statute of limitations.” The statute of limitations in this case would be three to ten years.

Graham said the open-ended time period for charging did not violate Campbell’s “right to a speedy and public trial,” guaranteed him under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. constitution. In 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, at least in a case where charges had been laid, the prosecution had a duty to move swiftly to trial. In his decision on Klopfer v. North Carolina Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “the pendency of the indictment may subject him to public scorn and deprive him of employment, and almost certainly will force curtailment of his speech.”

Salter said NWFRS couldn’t wait indefinitely. “We’re going to give it to the end of the month,” he said. The longer the new multi-district emergency services organization remains leaderless, the more chance it has of falling apart, he said, pointing to volunteer dissatisfaction in district 3. “We’ve gone a long way in a year, maybe too far too fast. We need leadership right now and what we need is a strong leader.”

McEachran said he realized that Campbell’s position made the outcome of the case of wider public interest. “We’ve spent a lot of time on this case. There will be a decision, yes or no, in a number of weeks.”.
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