Haugen charged with obstruction in incident concerning railroad sign


Staff writer

The City of Tacoma’s prosecutor’s office has charged Auburn City Councilmember Virginia Haugen with obstructing a law enforcement officer.

Papers filed in Auburn Municipal Court on Aug. 4 accuse Haugen of one count of obstructing a law enforcement officer who was investigating an incident of trespassing onto Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad property and posting a sign there July 4.

It claims that on or about July 7, Haugen “did knowingly hinder, delay or obstruct a police officer in discharge of his or her official power and duties, to wit: provided false information to officers during the course of an investigation.”

Auburn City Attorney Dan Heid forwarded the case file to the Tacoma prosecutor because he represents members of the City Council and cannot prosecute them.

Tacoma Assistant City Attorney Jean Hayes has been acting as special prosecutor on the case since July 23.

Arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 28 at 8:30 a.m. in Auburn Municipal Court.

Obstructing a police investigation is a gross misdemeanor in state law and Auburn’s code, carrying a maximum penalty of one year in jail and or a $5,000 fine. Haugen is unlikely to incur such a penalty based on her record.

Haugen’s problems began with the plastic sign that hung briefly from the railroad trestle over Auburn Way South on July 4. The sign read, “Will the last business in downtown Auburn please turn out the lights?”

While the complaint does not say Haugen trespassed onto railroad property or had anything to do with actually putting up the sign, she got into trouble by telling officers at first that she knew nothing about the sign, which investigation showed was not true.

Haugen said several businessmen, unhappy with “the mess the city has made of the downtown,” gave her the money to pay for two signs. She said she ordered them, used the cash given her to pay for them and picked them up.

Haugen conceded she was less than candid with police at first when they first questioned her about the matter, or as she preferred to say “bullied” her. She said she was pulled from a public works meeting to respond to what she was told was an emergency and feared something had happened to her family.

She told the Auburn Reporter that she panicked.

“They want to prosecute the persons who did it, but I am not going to give them the names,” Haugen said. “I told them if you want to subpoena me, and this lands in court, fine, please do. I am not worried about it.

“… I am very embarrassed about the whole situation,” Haugen said.