By Pat Jenkins
Police officers were heavyhanded when they broke up a candlelight vigil that was being held at an Eatonville park in memory of a teenage girl, according to the girl’s mother.
Christine Johnson said the crowd of about 100 people that gathered July 24 at Mill Pond Park “wasn’t dealt with very well” by officers who ordered the vigil participants to leave because they didn’t have a permit from the town for a gathering that size and were in the park after public hours. She blamed one officer in particular for mishandling the incident and inflaming emotions among the mourners.
Johnson’s daughter, Karianna Fisher, died in an accident the previous week while riding an all-terrain vehicle. The candlelight vigil was organized by friends.
Speaking publicly for the first time about the vigil, Johnson told the Town Council and an audience at a council meeting Aug. 12 that anyone else in her situation would have disagreed with the police reaction to the assembly of people paying their respect for someone who’d died at a young age.
“If it was one of your children, you wouldn’t have felt it was dealt with the right way, either,” Johnson said.
Eatonville Police chief Jason McGuire and Mayor Ray Harper have said that besides the group lacking a permit, officers decided to disperse the mourners because they were at the park after dusk, when it closes, and because they were placing lighted candles on the grass, which created a fire hazard because of the dry conditions.
Some of the vigil participants initially refused to leave the park. One man, believed by police to be intoxicated, urinated in front of an officer and was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car before being released. He wasn’t arrested, McGuire said.
Johnson suggested police needlessly provoked people.
She indicated the vigil participants who resisted leaving might have been more cooperative if one officer hadn’t been overly combative toward the gathering. She said insensitive police work erodes the public’s respect for officers.
“This is our community. It isn’t the Police Department’s town, it’s all of our town,” Johnson said.
Alexander Dole, a family friend who also spoke at the council meeting in support of Johnson, acknowledged that arrangements for the vigil could have been more in line with town rules. But he noted the participants were mostly “kids” who were dealing with emotions. He called the police reaction “inhumane.”
Harper told Johnson that the police “didn’t mean to disrespect your daughter,” but he said “things could have been handled better.”
No council members commented.
Besides two Eatonville officers, two Pierce County Sheriff Department deputies were called to the park during the vigil. No criticism has been directed at the deputies.