Good morning, Netizens…
Last night the Use of Force Commission met and heard testimony on recommendations for enhancing police accountability. The sad part is that none of the Spokane news media were in attendance, despite the number of reasons they should have been. However, former detective Ron Wright made some recommendations which I feel have a great deal of merit, and since, as far as I can tell, nobody is covering last night's meeting in the Spokane news media, I obtained permission from Ron to reprint his entire list of recommendations for everyone's edification.
I do not always agree 100% with Ron Wright on many issues, but I believe in this case he has hit the proverbial nail on the head. There are some other upcoming issues of equal importance in which Ron is involved, and they will be addressed as soon as they become public knowledge, as they are equally important.
However, at last night's meeting, Ron read portions of his recommendations into the public record, and with his permission, I am including his entire list of recommendations here for your edification.
*Re: Recommendations for organizational and procedural changes to enhance police accountability*
Otto Zehm's tragic death and the cover-up that ensued were the result of a total system failure much like the Nixon Watergate scandal to cover-up a third rate burglary. Some of the dynamics of this failure are beyond the control of the City. Otto’s death was the catalyst that exposed the dirty under belly of the local criminal justice system. The death of Otto was just the tip of the iceberg of other problematic local officer involved shootings and deaths (OIS/OID). These cases would be few and far between if local law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office had moral, ethical and professional leadership with a strong desire to search for the truth instead of spending much effort to cover up mistakes, abuse and misconduct from public exposure.
There are many fine men and women who are doing a very difficult job day in and day out that need our support to weed out the bad apples and to install a police command staff that has the intestinal fortitude to lead and to discipline the rank and file when appropriate. The City has not only failedWE THE PEOPLE but has failed its police officers for condoning and sanctioning poor police leadership. If there is no support from the top officers who do speak out will find themselves without backup on hot calls
All the Zehm family wanted was an apology and assurances that such tragedies wouldn’t happen again by cops allowed to go rogue by inept,incompetent and clueless law enforcement leaders, the City Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Mayor and the County Prosecutor’s Office. In short high ranking members of the SPD, the City Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Mayor lied to the citizens. Mayor Condon commissioned you to make recommendations to prevent such incidents from happening again and to change the culture and behavior of the SPD that has sanctioned these incidents.
The City of Spokane should demonstrate that it is very serious about bringing real change to the SPD to earn the trust and confidence of the people not by words but by action and behavior. The people should not be afraid of their own police force as some occupying military force instead. The Spokane Police Guild has strayed into areas that historically are the rights and prerogatives of management e.g., a case of the tail wagging the dog. Prior administrations have abrogated these rights. I have attached a number of actions the City could implement as a showing of good faith to return the graciousness of the Zehm family. I have also attached a recent letter to the City by former Sheriff Tony Bamonte and my resume.
In the end it will be WE THE PEOPLE who will pay for the failure of our elected and appointed leaders to address this serious problem.
*RECOMMENDATION FOR ACTION*
The following actions require no negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild:
1). First and foremost because of the abdication of County Prosecutor Steve Tucker of his duties and responsibilities in reviewing officer involved shootings and deaths (OIS/OID), a good way of quickly publicly vetting the evidence/testimony of these incidents would be hold inquest hearings when the criminal investigation is submitted to the prosecutor for review.
This would raise the professional bar of how these investigations are conducted. Well-done criminal investigations would facilitate the later IA investigations whether any criminal charges are file or not. If mistakes were made and or identified, police policy, procedure and training can be quickly changed to prevent future incidents.
2). An after action review of what led to the Zehm death is greatly needed. The cover up of Otto’s death was the result of a systemic organizational failure. Professionals outside of the City of Spokane’s influence that include law enforcement professionals and not necessarily academics and legal experts must do this review.
3). The now infamous SPD salute is still offensive to many Spokane citizens. City Attorney Nancy Isserlis should study the existing case law. This was an actionable offense under current SPD conduct policy regardless of whether these officers were off-duty. This is not a free speech issue as case law is quite clear as a condition of employment police officers can be held to a professional conduct policy – both on and off duty.
What would be appropriate is a letter to the officers’ personnel files that would be purged in one year that such action would no longer be tolerated. What disturbs me is that SPD command rank officers were present when the salute occurred. This would send a strong and clear message that the new City leadership is breaking with the past and intends to put its house in order.
4). Recommend that the multi-agency investigative team (created and managed by a joint powers agreement) that currently responds to all officer-involved shootings/deaths (OIS/OID), hire a law enforcement expert in OIS/OID investigations. This consultant could accompany the team on several future investigations. The consultant could give hands on training and make recommendations on how these investigations can be improved.
I have extensively reviewed the Scott Creach OIS and found it lacking in several areas. I don’t believe the deputy involved was being entirely truthful on what happened that night. While this OIS may not be criminal in nature it poses significant police policy, procedure and training issues that have not been resolved. Is this because of lack of knowledge and or the lack of desire to ask the hard questions? Sometimes this could be from groupthink, failure to believe that officers will sometimes lie, and not thinking outside of the box.
5). The City should set clear policy that it will not tolerate the continued employment of officers that are found lying. Arbitrators fail to understand the necessity of holding officers to a higher standard because of court sanctions. Arbitrators will order the rehiring of officers who lie if there is no set public policy as to lying by police officers. This may be a factor in hesitating to fire officers when it is well justified. As recently reported by the S-R there are *Brady issues* in retaining officers that have lost credibility in the courts – Officers Moses and McIntyre.
6). In recognition of Mayor’s Condon’s new direction of consolidating/coordinating police services where possible, recommend the creation of a regional police academy under the administration of a local community college with the guidance of local law enforcement agencies that would send newly hired police trainees. This in and of itself would go a long way to establish local best practices and procedures.
The local practice of higher police laterals from other agencies should not be abandoned but a concerted effort needs to be made to recruit and hire local applicants. Before a lateral candidate is hired a comprehensive background investigation is vital especially if the candidate has had multiple previous law enforcement employers. If there was a regional academy, candidates that were interested in pursuing a law enforcement career could put themselves through at their own expense and then could be hired by local agencies.
7). The Mayor and the City Council should request that the US DOJ continue with its current criminal investigation in the Thompson case to charge when possible any and all who were complicit and or aided and abetted in the cover-up. They have a wonderful tool that Tucker fails to use when dealing with reluctant witnesses - a federal grand jury.
8). The Mayor and the City Council should request that US DOJ formally investigate the case of former SPD Ofc. Edwards as to why he was never charged and or at least fired after the IA investigation. The Thompson and Edwards cases are like peas in a pod and illustrative of the systemic problem of high level officials in covering up these cases of misconduct and abuse of police power.
10). In view of the recent report by the WA Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs that SPD is down some one hundred officers per capita when compared to other similar cities, is this really the case and why? Underlying staffing issues can have serious consequences within police organizations and spillover negative effects on the community.
11). And lastly a way forward that has a real chance of bringing the substantive change in the culture and behavior of SPD and other local law enforcement agencies is to create a center for law enforcement excellence. The rules of engagement between a military in an active war zone and those of civilian law enforcement within a civil society have become clouded and blurred. In some cases local law enforcement is twenty years behind real time.
This center would be separate from local law enforcement agencies. This center could be funded with seed money from the City in recognition of the Zehm family’s graciousness and could be named after Otto. The center should have its own board of directors that are largely independent of the local political environment. Such a center would side step the local political corruption (See attached letter by former Sheriff Tony Bamonte). The center would have credibility when it critiques local police practice and procedure.
The board should be comprised of law enforcement experts from out of our area and include some members of the community. Annual contributions by the City for operating expenses could be included for a few years to come. Once the center is created grant funding could be sought from the US DOJ, the National Institute of Health and other organizations both governmental and private.
The center would be a professional think tank both regionally and nationally for law enforcement best practices. The center could also draw from the criminal justice programs at WSU, EWU and Whitworth and perhaps could be located on one of these campuses. Research as suggested by Dr. Matt Layton and other could be coordinated and funded by grants administered by this center.
[NOTE: I would also add I would strongly support providing and requiring the use of body cams. In my opinion while this may require meet and conferring regarding matters of policy/procedure, this isn't an issue that the Police Guild can hold hostage in salary negotiations]
505 West Riverside Ave., Suite 550
Spokane, WA 99201
[Used with permission]