Woman heads Oak Harbor detectives

Detective Teri Gardner - File photo
Detective Teri Gardner
— image credit: File photo

In the city of Oak Harbor, Teri Gardner is the worst enemy of rapists and child molesters.

Through a combination of specialized training and experience, the detective with the Oak Harbor Police has become remarkably adept at investigating sexual assaults and helping put the worst kind of criminals behind bars.

Last month, her authority over investigations was broadened. First she was promoted to sergeant, then she was promoted to detective sergeant. It’s the first time the important role as supervisor of the investigation division will be filled by a woman.

“November was a good month,” she said with a laugh.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks worked with Gardner in major cases that ended with long prison terms for the perpetrators. He’s happy to see her move up the ladder.

“Her dedication and the quality of her investigations are outstanding,” Banks said.

Gardner and Banks worked together on the Robert Wimmer case, in which Wimmer was convicted of raping and attempting to murder his estranged wife. More recently, they won a conviction against Joseph Blue for rape and assault.

“Making her the detective sergeant will institutionalize her role as a mentor,” Banks said. “Chief Wallace and the department will reap benefits from that for years to come.”

Gardner also investigated former therapist Glenn Jolley, who was convicted of indecent liberties against a patient in 2001. At his sentencing, Judge Alan Hancock made an unusual effort of publicly recognizing her for smart detective work.

Gardner said she’s lost count of the number of sex offenders she’s helped bring to justice in 10 years as the sex-crime detective, but there are dozens and dozens of them. The number of reports has increased each year, she said, partly because of the Internet.

“It’s opened up a whole new arena for those kinds of crimes,” she said.

Gardner is an experienced forensic interviewer of children. The important skill in such interviews, she said, is to ask questions without suggesting the answer.

Of course, Gardner investigates many other kinds of crimes, but it’s the sex crimes and child abuse cases that are often the most serious and heartbreaking. She said it’s fulfilling work to “take predators off the street.”

“I have an avid interest in advocating for victims,” she said.

The sergeant detective admits that her job has changed her outlook on mankind.

“I am more cautious in trusting people now,” she said. “My first year it was a real eye opener to learn that people lie to you on purpose.”

Law enforcement is not her first career. Gardner started out as a housewife, then she got a fitness bug. She ended up starting her own business, called “A Step Up.” Gardner had a lot of friends in the police department and liked the people and their lifestyle. After one of them suggested she look into the police force, Gardner enrolled in the law enforcement academy in Burien. She was hired in by Oak Harbor in 1996 as a patrol officer, but moved on to detective work after a couple of years.

While Gardner said the all-day assessment center to become a sergeant was challenging, Chief Rick Wallace said choosing her to lead the detectives was easy. She was the most qualified.

“She has been involved in all the major cases,” he said, describing Gardner as being “low profile” with a strong interest in “working behind the scenes.”

The promotion was official when she was “badged” by Oak Harbor Major Jim Slowik.

“You have reached this level because of your superior achievement and your superior behavior,” Slowik said as he pinned Gardner with a new sergeant badge.

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