09.21.10

The Cop Who Fell For His Informant

He was a drug-busting lawman. She was a meth-addicted rodeo queen with multiple arrests. But when she turned snitch, they fell in lust. Winston Ross on a catastrophic romance.

Before the meth addiction and the stolen cars, before she started ratting on low-lifes for cash—and before she fell in love with a Vancouver police officer who had been designated her “handler”—Tegan Rushworth was a bright kid who knew how to handle a horse. 

Born in Vancouver, a suburb of trendy Portland, Oregon, Rushworth was a smart, sweet girl struggling to deal with the divorce of her parents, her grandfather Billy Starnes told The Daily Beast. 

“She had a lot of friends,” said Starnes of Castle Rock, Washington, where Rushworth lived for five or six years when she was young. “They were always sleeping over at each other’s places, playing house, dolls, building tree forts, all kinds of stuff.” 

“I’m not licensed to say she’s a pathological liar,” one friend told investigators. “But in my opinion, she’s a pathological liar.” 

But her dad moved away to Boston and remarried, and Rushworth didn’t get along with her stepmom. Before long, the girl found more and more reasons to do battle with her own mom, Alisa Sam. 

“They were always at each other’s throats about something,” Starnes said. Still, until she became a full-fledged teenager and started running with troublemakers, Rushworth had some good things going for her. She was in the running for state rodeo queen, and she was doing all right in school. 

Then one day, she lost control of a horse, and it all seemed to spiral downward from there. 

“She was over at the coast,” her grandfather said. “I think she was on meth; I didn’t know it at the time. She started jerking on the horse’s reigns, the horse reared and fell over backwards on her, mashed her up on her insides. It wasn’t a permanent injury, but she couldn’t compete after that.” 

Rushworth dropped out of high school, got knocked up, and spiraled into a classic drug-fueled downfall. 

“She started conning people,” Starnes said. “Oh man, she could tell you a lie that would choke a horse.”

At age 17, Sam reported her as a runaway, and later that same year, she was a passenger in a car pulled over by Vancouver Police Officer Erik McGarrity. Another occupant of that vehicle was arrested that day on drug possession and a slew of outstanding warrants. 

Rushworth would get to know McGarrity much better a few years later. 

After another arrest, Rushworth agreed to be a confidential informant in 2006, under the supervision of Josie Hopkins, an officer in the Vancouver PD’s Drug Task Force Unit. After about a year, Hopkins decided Rushworth would be more useful to the cops’ Neighborhood Response Team, tasked with investigating low-level street-drug crimes and stolen property. That’s where Rushworth again crossed paths with Officer McGarrity, who had been part of the Response Team since 2005. Rushworth was pregnant with her second child at the time. 

From June to September of 2007, according to the city, Rushworth snitched on people she knew, earning $100 per bust. In all, she provided intel used to get search warrants, arrests, and convictions in more than two dozen cases. 

She still had to do time on the burglary charges, but she’d worked out a deal with the cops to stay out of jail until her child was born. In September of 2007, she was arrested on an outstanding warrant and sent to the Washington Corrections Center for Women, in Purdy, Washington, to serve a seven-month sentence. (Her work for the police department and her relationship with McGarrity were first reported by The Columbian.)

That’s the official line. As far as investigators have been able to prove at this point, Rushworth’s relationship with the married McGarrity was strictly professional while they worked together as rat and cop. 

Then came a letter from the joint, last December, from an inmate complaining that the pair’s relationship was much more than just professional. Detectives investigated the allegations and learned that McGarrity and Rushworth had at least begun dating immediately after she got out of the slammer in April 2008. Rushworth admitted as much to detectives in an interview earlier this year.  

“We went out a few times and we just seemed to really click,” she said. “We talked a lot. He knows a lot about me, so we have a very open and comfortable relationship.” 

Other cops knew that McGarrity was dating his former informant, according to the investigation. It didn’t take much sleuthing—he brought her to a barbecue at Sgt. Duane McNicholas’ house in the summer of 2008, after asking McNicholas whether that would be appropriate. 

“McNicholas discussed making good decisions with McGarrity, but ultimately left the decision up to him,” according to the report. “McGarrity left the barbecue and returned with (Rushworth.)”

He also took her to a policeman’s banquet, according to Sam, who said she noticed her daughter putting on “very nice clothes” one night in 2009—clothes the cop had bought her, Rushworth told her mom. 

Rushworth and McGarrity moved in together not long after she got out of prison, and by 2009, she was working as an informant again, but with other Vancouver PD officers. McGarrity had left the Neighborhood Resources team back in 2007.  

She swore the relationship started only after she got out of prison, and not while she was working with McGarrity. Others interviewed by the police told a different story.

Rushworth frequently bragged to friends and family that she was dating a cop. She told people the baby she was carrying was McGarrity’s, that the two were engaged and that they planned to get married. Friends didn’t know what to believe, they said, because Rushworth was said to lie about anything and everything. 

“I’m not licensed to say she’s a pathological liar,” one friend told investigators. “But in my opinion, she’s a pathological liar.” 

At one point, she had a Vancouver PD badge, one friend told detectives, and a bulletproof vest. She claimed she could get more of the department-issued equipment anytime she wanted. She told people that she and McGarrity had had sex in McGarrity’s patrol car, and in hotel rooms, and at the house he once lived in with his wife. 

“I think he’s stupid to be fucking with her,” the friend told detectives. “He knows she’s a dope freak. You know, a dope freak is a dope freak.” 

Her son got to flip the siren in the patrol car, other witnesses said. The friend who wrote the original letter alerting police to the relationship claimed Rushworth “gets out of jail fucking (snaps fingers)—like that, every fucking time. It seems like, it’s just amazing to me. You know?” The friend also recalled McGarrity showing up at a house she was hanging out with Rushworth at in early 2009. He was in uniform, she said, and the pair immediately started making out. 

“They went into the back room,” the friend said, “and my assumptions are that they had sexual relations because of the noises or whatnot. I mean, not to get too specific, but you can pretty much make your assumptions up off of what you hear with your own ears, I guess, right?” 

Rushworth described the relationship this way, the friend added: “Dating, and money, and sex.”

Her mother, when interviewed, said Rushworth kept mostly quiet about the relationship until she got out of prison, saying only that the officer had kept her picture in his locker, and that the pair had been together when she was locked up. 

“I had concerns about it,” Sam told police. “Number one, that she was a cop, number two, that he was married, and that he was so much older than her. Common sense, what’s a 43-year-old man have in common with a 24-year-old girl, except for, you know, a sexual intimacy.” 

At some point, McGarrity was worried about the relationship too, friends told police. One recalled a conversation she overheard between the cop and Rushworth, where he complained that she’d brought a stolen Lexus to her house. “I might as well just go unpack my locker, because you’re putting me in jeopardy,” he told her.  

But at the same time, friends told police, McGarrity would warn his girlfriend when he heard the marshals or bail bondsmen were looking for her. 

After one of her arrests, Rushworth asked a friend who picked her up to call McGarrity, who she said was her boyfriend, and a cop. The friend called, and McGarrity said, “Tell her there’s nothing I can do for her. I cannot help her. Sorry.” 

Rushworth continued to have trouble keeping her nose clean. In February of 2009, she was arrested for shoplifting, and for the remainder of the year, she racked up outstanding warrants on a series of other charges. In October, she and McGarrity broke things off, as Rushworth was “associated with several stolen vehicles,” which she claimed had to do with her work as an informant. 

“It was a Jerry Springer operation, basically,” one friend told police.

In January of this year, Rushworth’s career as a snitch came to an end when she was arrested while in possession of a stolen pickup truck. She’s been locked up ever since. 

The Washington State Patrol looked into the question of whether McGarrity could be charged with a crime, focusing on whether he’d either refrained from doing his job because of his relationship with Rushworth or whether he’d intentionally violated either the law or the department’s policy. 

Ultimately, the state found that any official misconduct involving Rushworth would have happened during the time they worked together in 2007. There’s a two-year statute of limitations. 

“Further investigative activity,” the state concluded, “would have been fruitless.” 

The Vancouver PD declined to comment for this article. Officer McGarrity’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

There remains a Vancouver PD internal affairs probe, but it’s unclear whether McGarrity will face any discipline. The case’s witnesses all have shady pasts, and Rushworth insists there was no romance while the pair worked together. As recently as this spring, she told detectives, she had hopes that the couple would reunite, once she gets her “stuff straightened out.” 

“We love each other,” she said. “And this is a very difficult situation for us, you know... I don’t want my past to affect him as an officer... I mean, yeah, I went to prison. Doesn’t make me a bad person. You know? It doesn’t mean that people can’t change for the better. Right? And, you know, he sees that. He shouldn’t be punished for that... We can’t help who we fall in love with.” 

A happy ending in this love story appears unlikely, though. Now that the word is out that Rushworth was a snitch, her life is in danger, Sam told The Daily Beast. 

“She’s in seclusion at the prison,” said Sam. “There’s a hit out on her.” 

McGarrity may have already moved on. The last time Rushworth talked to him, she told investigators, a woman answered the phone. 

Winston Ross is a reporter for the Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon and a regular contributor to Newsweek.com.