Former Bellingham police detective Adam “Bo” McGinty received an unauthorized hero's send-off, including a flag raising and a police procession after being fired for misuse of public funds.
Fellow police officers and members of the fire department attended the procession, according to details revealed in social media posts.
In a statement to Cascadia Daily News, Bellingham Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig said she "is disappointed to find an unsanctioned escort and flag raising took place.” Mertzig also indicated she will be instituting policies to prevent this from happening again.
Traditional law enforcement honors, including the flag raising and a vehicle escort of up to six vehicles — including police cars with emergency lights flashing — occurred in the weeks after Mertzig fired McGinty on Aug. 18 for alleged abuse of the department's dry cleaning perk.
The celebratory events came to light when McGinty’s wife, Beth McGinty, shared details in several Nextdoor posts on Sept. 12. She also described a private going-away party.
“Around 120 people came to Bo’s send off,” Beth McGinty posted. “There were prosecutors, city officials, retired and active duty officers of all ranks, except the chief.”
One of a number of Nextdoor posts by Beth McGinty, wife of fired former detective "Bo" McGinty. This one captures part of a flag-raising ceremony.
Bo McGinty, 42, was fired after an internal investigation revealed that he used dry-cleaning services in excess of the allotment specified in police officers’ bargaining agreement with the city. A memo summarizing the department's investigative report said “evidence would lead a reasonable person to believe” that McGinty had committed second-degree theft, which is a felony involving between $750 and $5,000 in goods or services.
In a separate post, Beth McGinty described the vehicle escort.
“Not only was there an escort, but there were firemen, civilians and officers parked roadside along Sunset (Drive), standing beside their cars waving and saluting him on his way out,” she wrote. “It was an honor I have only seen at funeral processions for officers that were killed in the line of duty.”
Beth McGinty also noted in her post that a flag-raising ceremony is held “for every officer that leaves the department in good standing.”
The Nextdoor posts have since been removed. The vehicles in the escort were seen in a brief video posted by Beth McGinty, which has also been deleted.
Multiple attempts by CDN to reach Bo and Beth McGinty were unsuccessful.
In a Thursday, Sept. 21 statement to Cascadia Daily News, Lt. Claudia Murphy of the Bellingham police department said the flag raising and the escort were unauthorized.
Those two events occurred on separate days, Murphy said, and participating officers were on duty at the time. The department did not have an estimate of the public cost of the flag raising and escort.
“The costs associated with the escort are unclear at this time because all officers who participated were already on duty and driving around the city,” the statement said.
A Nextdoor post by Beth McGinty, wife of former detective "Bo" McGinty, describes the vehicle procession.
The going-away party was a private event city employees could attend on their own time, the statement added. Some members of the Whatcom County prosecutor's office attended the event, the prosecutor's office confirmed.
“While BPD currently does not have a specific policy or procedure regarding escorts/flag raising, historically this honor has expressly been reserved for only those who retire or otherwise leave the department in good standing. In this instance, Mr. McGinty did not leave in good standing, and an escort or flag raising would not have been authorized," the statement said.
“Chief Mertzig has spoken with involved officers regarding these incidents, indicating her expectation that in the future, escorts/flag raisings should not occur without her express permission,” the statement continued. “She will be disseminating a department-wide directive to make this clear to staff going forward.”
A July 26 memo by Deputy Chief Don Almer summarizing the investigation’s findings concluded that McGinty’s actions constituted violation of state laws, misuse of public funds and “criminal, dishonest or disgraceful conduct.”
The report doesn’t specify a dollar amount for the excessive dry cleaning, but FOX 13 Seattle reported it to be $750.98 over 17 months.
A criminal investigation by the Mount Vernon police, asked to conduct an inquiry to avoid appearances of conflict, concluded last week, Lt. Mike Moore of the Mount Vernon department said. Reached by phone on Wednesday, Sept. 20, Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich said he hadn’t reviewed the police reports yet.
In an interview with FOX 13, Bo McGinty denied wrongdoing.
“I never hid anything. I was never dishonest,” he said.
Det. Craig Frank, president of the Bellingham Police Guild, declined to comment on the celebrations for McGinty, saying he wasn’t involved in them. He said the guild filed a grievance on McGinty’s behalf but added that he couldn’t provide specifics.
The police department has maintained that the issue isn’t abuse of dry cleaning privileges but rather the deception McGinty used to obtain that service.
“While the facts of the case are about the misuse of dry cleaning, the core of the case is about integrity,” Murphy’s statement said.
Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood said Thursday he believed the police department is taking appropriate steps.
"I know the Chief’s original actions to uphold the department’s high standards of integrity were taken after a thorough investigation," Fleetwood said in a statement to CDN. "Based on the facts discovered, she terminated Detective McGinty’s employment. This is the Chief’s call to make and I respect her decision."
Almer’s July memo concluded “Det. McGinty demonstrated awareness of this (dry cleaning) limit and a deliberate intent to circumvent this limit in a deceptive manner” by putting the additional dry cleaning under another detective’s name — without informing that detective or his supervisors.
Evidence of his deception compromised McGinty in his role as a police detective, the memo said.
The memo also notes that McGinty was on the department’s special victims unit, and he had been assigned at least one “high profile” case.
The case wasn’t identified in the memo, but McGinty was the lead detective on a pending case in Whatcom County District Court in which three Bellingham Public Schools assistant principals are accused of failure to report the sexual assault of a student.
That case goes to trial in December, and county prosecutor Eric Richey expects McGinty will be called as a witness for the prosecution. Defense attorneys would be able to challenge McGinty’s credibility during his testimony, Richey said.
The prosecutor sent a letter to defense attorneys on July 21, detailing McGinty’s violation of department policies and stating that a judge or jury could conclude he “demonstrated dishonesty” and committed “theft of services by aid of deception.”
Despite the professional tarnish on McGinty, Richey acknowledged that he was a popular detective, and two of his prosecutors attended the going-away party.
“Bo McGinty as an officer was much loved,” Richey said. “This is an incredibly unfortunate thing to have happened.”
In 2017, McGinty received the KAFE 104.1 Hometown Hero award as a district resource officer for Bellingham Public Schools. He received a promotion in 2018, shown in a Bellingham Police Department Facebook post.
This report was updated at 5:26 p.m. on Sept. 21, 2023, to include a statement from Mayor Seth Fleetwood.