On Oct. 18, 1890, Republican George B. Kandle was elected Tacomaâ€™s mayor. In those days, the city operated under a commissioner system, and many jobs were by political appointment. Kandle appointed William F. Zwickey chief of police and Zwickey fired 15 non-Republican policemen.
When Zwickey took office, he said he would investigate every complaint against every officer. He wanted to â€œpurify the Force and raise the standards of his employees with a new set of rules and regulationsâ€ and, in particular, â€œhe wouldnâ€™t tolerate officers using clubs, except in riots or in self-defense.â€ Two months later, the Tacoma Daily News started looking at Zwickey and his promises. On Dec. 21, â€œa policeman beat Swedish laborer Ole Hansen for no apparent reason,â€ and arrested a laborer for being a vagrant. Another officer arrested a man named Tom Barclay, demanding Tom give him money. On Dec. 23, an officer named Flanagan arrested store clerk named Frank Dowd. The city attorney told the judge there were no grounds, and Dowd was released.
One of the most egregious incidentsâ€™ the paper covered involved a cop named Housh and a man named Joseph Niggemeyer. Niggemeyer and two men, Caspar Eggerth and Charles Wopers, caught the street car to attend a meeting at Van Dusenâ€™s Hall on J Street. After the men paid their fares, street car operator Ed Doran shortened the ride well before the correct stop. Niggemeyer and Doran had a verbal altercation. After the meeting, the three men went to the corner of Center and J streets to catch the street car back.
In the meantime, Doran notified the police about the trouble and Housh showed up, saying he was there to arrest Niggemeyer for drunkenness, and started beating him. Eggerth and Wopers tried to interfere but were driven off. After Niggemeyer lost consciousness, Housh dragged him into a saloon and had a drink. Eggerth and Wopers followed, protesting the beating, and Housh arrested them, too. All three ended up in court. Judge Emmett Parker released Eggerth and Wopers but fined Niggemeyer $5 and court costs. He said Niggemeyer was technically guilty of disturbing the peace, and the manner of the arrest did not make him less so. He did say Housh was guilty of undue violence. While Niggemeyer appealed the case, Wopers filed a complaint against Housh on the charge of assault; it was never served.
While this was going on, another Swede was arrested â€œon suspicion of somethingâ€ and denied a hearing, and a police officer known as Three Dollar Kelly tried to extort $3 from several Japanese prostitutes.
On Dec. 29, Kelly went to Willie Pelkaâ€™s place to gamble, and cheated by using marked cards. Willie was arrested, ostensibly on charges of robbery and keeping a house of prostitution, but more likely because she reported his coming into her establishment to gamble while on duty (not to mention cheating). A notary public named Albert Heilig took her statement, but Kelly swore she didnâ€™t understand what she was swearing to because she was drunk when she gave the testimony. Heilig said she didnâ€™t appear drunk to him and that she understood the gravity of the charges she was making.
Kelly denied ever having gambled in Willieâ€™s place, but two other gentlemen who were present at the time confirmed he was there. The Daily News got an affidavit from one who said he heard the money jingle on the table, heard Willie leaving the table saying she had to get some more cash, heard her accuse Kelly of cheating, and heard Kelly say she was â€œdead easy game.â€ Chief Zwickey stepped in, saying he would release her if she recanted, but fine her $500 if she refused. She agreed to recant and was released. Court officials were told that she either withdrew the charges or was missing. The judge said he knew nothing about any negotiations, and he had no choice but to dismissal charges against both Willie and Kelly.
A few weeks later, a man pretending to be a sailor entered Willieâ€™s joint. She recognized him as being a detective, and ordered him to leave. He demanded a whiskey, which she gave him, before again asking him to leave. He refused, and she contacted the police. The Squad of Seven, whose express purpose was to raid places such as Willieâ€™s, showed up. The detective swore she had taken $5 for the drink and refused to give him change. Willie knew this was a favorite trick pulled or instigated by Three Dollar Kelley. The police again arrested Willie and charged her with keeping a house of ill repute. She was denied bail, and a snitch was assigned to share her cell. Willie kept mum, was eventually released, and disappeared.
On Jan. 12, 1891, a police officer named H.J. Miller was accused of being a Daily News informant and was fired. Miller, who had a good reputation around town, demanded an investigation. â€œI donâ€™t want to be reinstated,â€ he said, â€œI just want to have my reputation be set right before the public.â€ This quote was the only time he spoke to the paper.
As the Daily News continued reporting outrages committed by officers under Zwickeyâ€™s watch, Zwickey, Capt. Kelly and others formed a joint stock arrangement in order to make â€œcluster chargesâ€ of libel against the Daily News. They asked for $80,000.
In February, Zwickey was seen in a saloon drinking, after which he rode in a carriage down Pacific Avenue â€œhooting and yelling.â€ He resigned and Three Dollar Kelly was fired. L. D. Ellis became the new police chief and served for a year and a half. Tacoma adopted the council-manager system and did away with the commissioner system.