Newly-elected Pasco school official has 2 domestic violence convictions. Can he still serve?

·9 min read

A newly-elected Pasco School Board member who campaigned on the need for more moral and ethical public officials has two domestic violence convictions.

But Stephen Asay Simmons’ convictions for fourth-degree assault — including one that involved a 2-year-old — don’t prevent him from serving on the board.

Simmons, a preventive maintenance planner at the Hanford nuclear site, told the Herald that he has learned a lot about conflict resolution and relationships in the past seven years.

He plans to take those lessons into the position when he’s sworn into office on Dec. 14.

“We’re not perfect people,” he said. “We want to constantly improve and better ourselves. ... We have worked very hard on our own to make sure that these things don’t happen again.”

He ran unopposed for the unpaid position to replace longtime board member Sherry Lancon, who did not seek another term.

“This past year has highlighted the need for elected officials who represent us using facts, ethics, principles, and morals,” Simmons said in the Franklin County voter’s pamphlet. “I’m tired of standing on the sidelines while our children’s future is decided for us.”

He was part of a slate of conservative-backed candidates who filed for office because of frustrations over COVID restrictions. Nearly all of the candidates won spots on Tri-Cities school boards.

Simmons is among nearly 300 Hanford workers who recently joined in a lawsuit to protest the federal vaccine mandate at the nuclear reservation.

The Pasco School Board has largely escaped the criticism faced by other Tri-City districts over how it handled COVID.

Simmons said the current school board is good, and he wanted to make sure the board continued that way.

“I felt we needed a good conservative voice on the board,” said Simmons, whose main financial supporter during the election was the Franklin County Republican Party, which donated $2,000 to his campaign. “I felt like I would be a good team player.”

Legal troubles

The 42-year-old father of four grew up in the Tri-Cities, but lived for a time in Oregon with his second wife and her young daughter.

His first conviction was in Redmond, Ore., not long after he moved there in 2005. He was charged with mistreating the toddler, admitting he would spank her or hit her cheek for not eating, for potty training accidents and bed wetting, police reports show.

Eight years later, after returning to Pasco, he was arrested for hitting his wife after an argument after he accused her of not feeding their children healthy food, according to a Pasco police report.

The information comes from documents obtained by the Tri-City Herald through public records requests in Oregon and Washington.

In both cases, he initially told investigating officers the incidents were accidental but, after further questioning, gave different accounts, according to police reports.

Simmons pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor in each case and was credited for serving one day in jail in one incident. He has paid all court fees and cleared probation in both cases.

Simmons told the Herald that after the convictions something needed to change, so he went into counseling. The men’s counseling group called Building Healthy Relationships taught him how not to blame other people and how to address problems rather than people.

“You get a whole toolbox of skills that life just doesn’t teach us,” he said.

While some criminal convictions can affect a person’s ability to be hired as an employee by a school district, they don’t disqualify him from serving in an elected position on the school board.

Sean Duke with the Washington State School Directors’ Association, told the Herald it’s a relatively rare, but not unheard of, circumstance that an elected school board member has a criminal conviction.

He said in his four years with the association, this is the second time he was asked about this kind of situation.

2005 case

Sixteen years ago, Simmons, then 26, had just remarried and moved to Redmond, Ore., from the Tri-Cities with his wife and her 2 1/2-year-old daughter.

Someone reported to the Oregon Department of Human Services that the girl had suspicious bruises on her face. And state DHS officials asked Redmond police to help investigate.

An officer, along with a DHS investigator, went to Simmons’ house on Dec. 13, 2005.

His wife told them she had recently started working nights at a local grocery store and came home one night and saw the bruises.

“Steve told (his wife), (the girl) fell at first, but later told her he had hit her,” said the report.

The officer said he could see bruises on both sides of the girl’s face and on her upper thigh.

When the officer asked Simmons about the bruises, he initially said the girl had fallen down a flight of stairs a week earlier.

When he was asked about the bruises on the girl’s back and leg, Simmons said she had fallen about a foot out of bed onto the floor. Also, he said the toddler slipped in the bathtub two to three weeks earlier, but he caught her before she hit her head, and she didn’t seem hurt.

When the officer asked Simmons if he ever spanked or hit the child in the face, Simmons admitted he would spank her because she didn’t eat her food or because they were potty training and she had an accident.

“Steve said he had hit her on the cheek once for wetting the bed, but he did not hit her hard,” said the report.

After further questioning, “… Steve admitted some of the bruises have been made by him. Steve also admitted to have hit (the toddler) on her cheeks and causing some bruises.”

A St. Charles Health System emergency room doctor examined the girl and concluded that none of the bruises were from a fall, said the police report.

The bruises on the left side of the girl’s face were consistent with someone slapping her hard enough to bruise the girl’s ear, the doctor told police.

The bruises on the right side were from someone grabbing her “by the chin with their fingers by her eye and hard enough to bruise,” said the report.

The doctor said bruises on the girl’s buttocks appeared to be older than those on her face, possibly a week to three days older, the report said.

Simmons was arrested and initially charged with third-degree assault, first-degree criminal mistreatment, as well as fourth-degree assault.

He later pleaded guilty in Deschutes County, Ore., to fourth-degree assault and was on probation for 18 months.

2014 case

Eight years later, Simmons was back living in the Tri-Cities when police were called again to investigate a domestic assault, this time involving his wife.

Pasco police went to the couple’s Ivy Lane home on Jan. 2, 2014, after one of his wife’s friends called police because he had slapped her.

Then-Pasco police Sgt. Ben Majetich, who is now West Richland’s police chief, arrived at the house just after 1 p.m. with two other officers.

Simmons’ wife told officers they had been arguing all morning after he accused her of not feeding the children healthy food, said Majetich’s report.

Then, she was in the kitchen when their 10-month-old crawled into the room.

Simmons walked in and told her to give him the baby. When she refused, he tried to grab the boy. After she pulled away, he backhanded his wife on the right cheek, according to the police report.

“She hit and pushed him away and told her 7-year-old son to call the police,” according to Majetich’s report. The older boy was at the dining room table and “witnessed the assault.”

Before officers arrived, Simmons collected all the family members’ cellphones and also called his parents and said his wife was trying to call police on him, said the report.

After 15 to 20 minutes, he returned his wife’s phone, but she was afraid he would take it away again if she tried to call police, so she texted a friend who called the authorities.

When speaking with police that night, his wife told them “there had been prior domestic assaults from Stephen including slaps and most recently, in December 2012, a punch in the hip,” said Majetich’s report. An online records search shows no charges or arrests in connection with those prior incidents.

The friend who called police said Simmons’ wife “has told her in the past that Stephen often physically abuses her.”

After he was arrested and advised of his rights on Jan. 2, he told Pasco Officer Michael Nelson that “he accidentally hit his wife in the face with the back of his hand while his arms were flailing about in the midst of an argument. He said he did not mean to do it.”

“Mr. Simmons told me that he had been arrested in 2004 in the state of Oregon for domestic violence against his wife,” according to Nelson’s report.

Simmons was charged in Pasco Municipal Court with fourth-degree assault and interfering with reporting domestic violence.

He pleaded guilty the next day to fourth-degree assault, and was sentenced to serve one day in jail with 363 days suspended.

Simmons also was ordered to pay $750 and to not possess any guns while on probation, according to court records. He paid the amount in full a few days later.

A no-contact order also was issued in the case but the judge agreed to drop it on Jan. 22, 2014, at the victim’s request over the objection of city prosecutors, show the court records.

A year later Simmons had complied with all probation requirements.

New role

Simmons admits that things needed to change in how he addressed problems.

He said he learned how to attack the problem rather than lashing out at people, the importance of communication and how to respect individuals’ thoughts and feelings.

He believes what he learned will help him on the school board — where you can have an opinion but work together as a team.

“I wouldn’t want to believe that anyone in elected office is perfect,” he said.

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