A federal judge has ordered a Spokane man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to government officials, including President Barack Obama, receive psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is competent to stand trial.
Matthew Ryan Buquet has been in federal custody since May, when several letters that initially tested positive for the castor bean-derived toxin arrived at the Thomas S. Foley Courthouse in downtown Spokane. The missives, which included the message “We have a bomb placed we are going to kill you! Hezbollah,” arrived in envelopes bearing the return address of a downtown Spokane law firm, according to court documents since sealed.
A female employee of the firm reported she began receiving notes and gifts, including a can of Coca-Cola, on her desk. Buquet, a member of the janitorial crew that cleaned the office space leased by the law firm, had been dismissed from previous jobs for similar behavior. The FBI detained Buquet at his apartment shortly after the letters were discovered and interrogated him at a hotel, according to court paperwork. An FBI agent with the investigation said at the time Buquet appeared “gravely disabled,” exhibited “bizarre behaviors” and was “delusional,” according to court records.
U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty authorized the mental evaluation. Haggerty, an Oregon judge, was assigned to the case after a Spokane judge recused himself because one of the poisoned letters was addressed to a colleague.
Haggerty wrote in his ordered he was “satisfied that there is reasonable cause to believe the defendant may not be competent to understand the charges against him and to assist in his defense.”
A hearing to argue the findings of the competency hearing is set for May, with a potential jury trial in the case pushed to October. Buquet has been indicted on a criminal charge of possessing a deadly biological agent and two counts of mailing threatening communications. If convicted of the charges, Buquet could spend 20 years to the rest of his life in federal prison.
There were a few questions from readers about the article in today's Spokesman-Review reporting the guilty plea of Rex Newport, a Colville Police officer who had been accused of multiple sex crimes spanning a period from 2011 to 2013.
The Spokesman Review has obtained a copy of the pleading paperwork filed in Stevens County, which has been attached to this Sirens and Gavels blog post. The initials of victims and addresses have been redacted. No other changes have been made to the versions that appeared online.
Newport, 45, entered an Alford plea Tuesday, according to his statement made on page 16 of the attached document. The pleading means Newport admits the evidence against him may have convinced a jury to convict, though he continues to maintain his innocence.
According to court documents, Newport will have to surrender his badge and service weapon as a result of the felony conviction. He must also register as a sex offender with the state for a decade.
Wednesday's story indicated Newport faced a sentence of between 22 and 29 months. The pleading paperwork, which includes the terms of the deal, states prosecutors are recommending Newport serve his sentences concurrently for the five charges. That means the maximum amount of time he would spend in jail, if a judge accepts the plea, would be 22 months - the low end of the sentencing range. See page 13 of the attached document.
Finally, the Spokesman has reported Newport faces a civil case in which a pilot claims Newport used excessive force when detaining him during an arrest at a municipal air field in 2011. Newport and the City of Colville have denied the charges, according to court documents. The case is being heard in federal court and has a current trial date in September. There have been no new filings in that case since November.
A pair of teenagers accused of stealing multiple cars they dumped when the gas ran out are both in jail facing auto and firearm theft charges.
Eli Olson, 19, was booked into Spokane County Jail on Friday after police pulled him over driving a Dodge SUV that had been reported stolen, along with a .45 caliber handgun that had been in the vehicle at the time it was taken. Olson said he was high on methamphetamine at the time of his arrest and that he'd stolen the car along with 18-year-old Austyn Witcher, who is “like a brother to him,” according to court documents.
In a subsequent interview, Olson said he and Witcher stole five vehicles that had been reported stolen by “punching the ignition,” manipulating the starter so that it can be engaged by a screwdriver, according to court documents. The two ditched the stolen vehicles when they stopped running and broke into another nearby car, their preference being Dodge and Nissan model cars, Olson said.
Witcher was subsequently arrested driving a 2000 Dodge truck that had also been reported stolen. Investigators recovered a gun in his belongings at a girlfriend's apartment, but the .45 handgun is thought to have been sold on the West Side, earning Witcher an additional money laundering charge.
Bail was set for Olson and Witcher on their charges at $25,000 and $50,000, respectively.
You'd think crooks would have figured out by now there's cameras everywhere.
But apparently not.
Take this Einstein, for example.
Notice how he walked up to the Spokane espresso stand, placed an order and even looked up at the surveillance camera while waiting for his beverage to be prepared, but covered half of his face only after informing the barista that he's actually there to rob the place?
The robber got away this morning with an undisclosed amount of cash — and a cup of coffee.
Spokane police are asking for the public's help identifying the robber, and are hoping anyone with information about the robbery will call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233. There's practically a full facial image about 6 seconds in to the video. FYI.
The woman who lived with jailed Spokane developer Greg Jeffreys and was implicated in his schemes to defraud real estate investors was sentenced to seven months in prison last week after pleading guilty to concealing plots through ignorance and conspiracy.
Shannon Stiltner was also ordered to pay more than $58,000 in restitution to two defrauded investors by a federal judge at a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court on Feb. 10. Jeffreys was originally slated to be sentenced last week as well, but that hearing was stayed as attorneys continue to stipulate the amount the former real estate developer owes, which may total in the millions.
In court documents asking U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson to accept the seven-month sentence, Stiltner said Jeffreys swept her off her feet after a failed marriage, guiding her drug-addicted daughter to sobriety.
“(Jeffreys') actions established a deep and powerful trust between him and Shannon,” Stiltner's attorney, John McEntire, wrote.
That trust kept her from questioning Jeffreys' business deals, even after news reports began to indicate something was wrong, McEntire said.
Stiltner's sentence ends one chapter of a legal saga that has been ongoing since Jeffreys' arrest more than a year ago. Jeffreys' wife, Kimberly, continues her legal fight with a trial tentatively scheduled for April. Greg Jeffreys sentencing, at which dozens of witnesses are expected to testify about his alleged debts, will take place in March.
Auto thieves had easy pickings this week in Spokane.
Police say five vehicles that were left idling and unattended have been stolen this week alone, and urged motorists to resist the temptation to start their cars and trucks to let them warm up without anyone in them.
Moreover, leaving an automobile idling unattended is illegal and can result in a $124 fine, according to the Spokane Police Department.
Here's a list of idling vehicles police say were stolen in Spokane this week:
Portions of the chase and final confrontation between a despondent Army veteran and Spokane-area law enforcement were broadcast across the Internet by state traffic cameras.
Although the Washington Department of Transportation doesn’t store the images, those who were on the website Tuesday night were able to follow the chase westbound along Interstate 90 from the state line and see part of the standoff at the end of the Sullivan exit ramp.
Some quick-thinking viewers pulled screen grabs of the photos before they expired, some of which were posted to Facebook by the siren-obsessed website Spokane News. Among them is the above image of a man, thought to be 23-year-old Jed Zillmer, standing alongside a stopped car facing a fleet of law enforcement vehicles behind him.
Zillmer, who reportedly was despondent and threatening to shoot people, was killed by Spokane County sheriff's deputies in the confrontation. A multi-agency investigation is underway.
The state's traffic control cameras capture and display new images every two minutes.
Al Gilson, a spokesman for the state Transportation Department, said they are intended to provide people with a glimpse of current traffic conditions and to alert authorities to potential problems as quickly as possible. The cameras are monitored around the clock in Spokane by traffic operators who can call police or paramedics to advise of collisions or other unsafe conditions.
The cameras generally are pointed at the freeway but can be rotated. On Tuesday night, the freeway camera at Sullivan Road was rotated to the north when the fleeing vehicle exited and continued to broadcast as the chase turned to a standoff.
“They keep track of what’s going on,” Gilson said of the camera monitors.
A man with a long history of felony and misdemeanor crimes was back in court again Tuesday, facing his fifth charge relating to car theft in the past year.
Nickolas N. Davis, 28, was ordered held on $7,500 bond on his most recent charge of theft of a motor vehicle. In 2013 he was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle four times and pled guilty to attempting to elude a police vehicle. Spokane County Superior Court Judge Greg Sypolt also imposed a $7,500 bond on each of the 2013 stolen vehicle cases, which have not yet gone to trial.
Sypolt noted that Davis has failed to appear in court 25 times and his previous cases include charges of intimidating a witness and bribing a witness.
Davis was released to the care of American Behavior Health Systems on Jan. 22 for a drug treatment program and ordered to appear in drug court, but court documents state that Davis never showed up for court. He was arrested Monday driving a car that he allegedly stole from a former girlfriend, court documents state.
A man arrested after crashing his vehicle and refusing a breathalyzer test earlier this week blamed the accident on his mother, who was nowhere near the scene of the accident.
Larry Coleman was found by Liberty Lake firefighters sitting behind the steering wheel of his car, which was resting in a snowy ditch along Interstate 90 around 6 p.m. Monday, according to court documents. Coleman was not injured and was the only person in the car when law enforcement arrived.
When a Washington State Patrol office arrived, Coleman had moved to the passenger's seat, according to court documents. He told the patrolman his mother had been driving at the time of the one-vehicle accident and that she'd started walking along the highway toward Liberty Lake following the crash.
Liberty Lake police officers and firefighters found no woman on the highway, according to court records.
Coleman admitted to drinking a couple beers and refused a breathalyzer test after speaking with an attorney. A court order was signed to test his blood for intoxicants and he was arrested, according to court documents.
According to Spokesman-Review reporting, local law enforcement investigated 23 deaths as homicides in and near Spokane County in 2013. Public safety reporters Kip Hill, Kaitlin Gillespie and others kept track of each of the cases, and we're making our records available to you below.
Blue icon: Case has been resolved, either through legal procedures or the death of a suspect.
Yellow icon: A suspect (or suspect) is (are) in custody, and the case is moving through the legal process.
Red icon: No suspects have been apprehended to date.
Click on the icon to learn more about the case, and visit the Google spreadsheet for specific case details and customize the map to your preferences. As a companion to this piece, the Spokesman-Review is also publishing a list and map of the homicides involving law enforcement officers in 2013.
Five men died after confrontations with Spokane law enforcement in 2013, according to Spokesman-Review records. Investigations into the shooting by a multiagency task force ended in no recommendations for charges against any of the law officers. The five fatal shootings is up from one reported fatality during incidences with local law enforcement in 2012, according to Spokesman-Review reports.
Blue icon: Spokane Police Department was the responding agency.
Green icon: Spokane County Sheriff's Office was the responding agency.
Public safety reporters Kip Hill, Kaitlin Gillespie and others contributed to the creation of this map. Click on a map icon for more information on a specific event, and visit the Google spreadsheet it's based upon to change views of the information to your preferences. As a companion to this database, the Spokesman-Review is also publishing a list of all homicides we covered beginning Jan. 1, 2013.
The Spokane man accused of sending threatening letters to a former neighbor alluding to his belief he was the Archangel of Death has been released under supervision to seek psychiatric evaluation.
Brent Russ, 33, had been in custody of the U.S. marshals since his arrest in September. Federal agents investigating letters and phone messages to Russ’ southwest Spokane neighbor, a tribal police officer, discovered guns and a journal outlining Russ’ beliefs he was the “embodiment of God’s wrath.” Prosecutors were charging him with one criminal stalking count and two counts of mailing threatening communications.
Those charges were suspended for five years by a federal judge Friday, who ordered Russ stay with his parents in western Washington, surrender his guns and seek psychiatric evaluation. Russ will also be supervised by federal court officials as part of the pretrial agreement.
The order puts the prosecution on hold so that Russ can demonstrate “good conduct,” according to U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice. The ruling leaves the door open for future prosecution or to dismiss the charges entirely.
A drug bust turned up an unconscious teenager in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, on Monday along with items believed to be stolen from the Kootenai River Inn and other locations.
An ambulance was called for the 17-year-old, who eventually revived enough to be released to a parent, according to a Boundary County spokesman Michael Meier.
The Bonners Ferry Police Department served a search warrant on the home and found marijuana, drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine packaged for sale in addition to the stolen items. Police arrested two men, both from Spokane, but their names have not been released.
The sentencing of jailed developer Greg Jeffreys, who pleaded guilty to fraud and contempt charges in November, will take a little longer than planned, in part to accommodate the dozens of witnesses the former Ridpath Hotel investor plans to call on his behalf.
A U.S. District Court judge this week delayed a hearing, expected to last at least two days, at which Jeffreys is expected to dispute the amount owed numerous debtors listed in court filings. Scheduled for February, the sentencing and a decision on how much Jeffreys owes in restitution will not come until later in March.
In his request for the continuance, Jeffreys and his attorney cite an extensive witness list - including bankers, assessors and family members - as part of the reason for the needed delay. In total, Jeffreys plans to call more than 30 people to testify about his debts and character. Some of those he plans to call were involved in leasing deals at the Ridpath, Spokane's historic hotel whose revitalization was impeded by Jeffreys' legal woes.
Jeffreys was indicted in January 2013 on multiple federal counts of bank and wire fraud, money laundering and theft tied to real estate dealings and developments that never materialized. Jeffreys and his wife, Kimberly, were implicated in a plot to steal federal government money when constructing a military entrance processing station off Highway 2. Employee Shannon Stiltner, who allegedly shared a casino suite with Jeffreys in Las Vegas, also pleaded guilty in November to concealing knowledge of a Ponzi scheme.
Stiltner's sentencing is still set for February.
A disagreement between Spokane County prosecutors and a man facing a felony harassment charge over a 911 call recording costing $17 was decided by a three-member panel of the Washington state Court of Appeals this week.
“Neither party, out of principle, will budge one cent,” wrote Judge George B. Fearing in a decision handed down Thursday. The court ordered Daniel Lee Brown must pay the fee to get a copy of the phone call that sent him to jail on suspicions he'd threatened to kill his girlfriend's new beau in January 2012.
Brown had argued his requirement to pay for the record violated his state constitutional rights as a criminal defendant. Prosecutors countered Brown filed his appeal of a trial court order “to make a point” and asked rhetorically, “is the defendant entitled to get anything he wants for free?”
Brown is fighting accusations he sent text messages to an ex-girlfriend who was staying with another man at his apartment. The man called police, a recording which has prompted the latest legal challenge. Brown was arrested outside the apartment complex and found with two firearms, including a loaded handgun in Brown's pants pocket. Brown admitted to police he'd sent threatening text messages, according to court documents.
Fearing and two colleagues sided with prosecutors and threw out Brown's request to dismiss the case or suppress the recordings at trial. Brown's trial was put on hold in June 2013 to give the appellate court time to reach a decision. He is not in custody, according to jail records.
A Superior Court Judge in the Tri-Cities was nominated today by President Barack Obama for a federal judgeship in the Eastern District of Washington.
Salvador Mendoza Jr. would replace U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko, who has moved into senior status. The appointment must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The nomination was among four announced today the White House. Federal judges are paid $174,000 a year.
Mendoza was appointed to the Benton and Franklin County bench in April by Gov. Jay Inslee. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and completed his law degree from UCLA in 1997. In addition to having worked as a deputy prosecutor and assistant attorney general, he had focused on criminal defense while in private practice.
The Eastern District of Washington is based in Spokane but has judges in the Tri-Cities and Yakima.
Mendoza is the second judicial nominee awaiting Senate confirmation in Eastern Washington. Wenatchee lawyer Stan Bastian was nominated last fall to replace U.S. District Judge Ed Shea, who moved to senior status in the summer of 2012.
Federal judges who meet certain requirements are able to move into senior status rather than retire. It’s intended to keep experienced judges on the job by offering them reduced caseloads.
The Spokane man accused of sending threatening letters to a tribal police officer that included allusions to his belief he was the “Archangel of Death” remains in custody pending trial after a federal judge shot down his contention the mailings were protected by the First Amendment.
Brent Russ, 33, argued earlier this month the letters he sent a former neighbor expressed his religious views, not an intimidating intent. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice denied the claim, as well as a request from Russ that he be released from custody ahead of his upcoming trial after two mental health experts deemed he posed no threat to the community.
“The Court continues to harbor reasonable concerns about Defendant’s mental stability that prohibit it from releasing Defendant at this time,” Rice wrote in an order denying Russ' release. Rice also found the language of the letter suggesting legal action, in which Russ wrote that he would “take everything you have, everything you ever had, and everything you ever will have through the courts,” was not solely a legal communication and thus did not qualify for First Amendment protection.
Concerns about Russ' mental state were raised after a disturbing manifesto was found at his home by federal agents investigating the stalking claims. In the journal, Russ admits slaying nocturnal creatures by slicing through their brains with a Samurai sword and says he experienced a “download” in early 2013 that prompted him to file lawsuits against the nation's biggest banks. He also wrote about sending plans to dissolve the government to President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, according to court documents.
Russ has been in custody of U.S. marshals since his arrest in September. Defense attorney Andrea George has asked Rice to push the trial date from later this month to February to allow more time for experts to determine Russ' mental state.
A Spokane woman implicated in a massive 2013 bust of an alleged prescription painkiller peddling ring was arrested early Tuesday on suspicions of driving under the influence, according to court documents.
Ashley Arredondo, 28, is one of 62 named defendants in a federal court case that has grown so large the judge has separated defendants into three groups. She was arrested in late February 2013 and released after posting bond a week later, according to court records. Arredondo faces a federal count of conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Shortly after 3 a.m. Tuesday, Arredondo was arrested in North Spokane near the 500 block of West Sierra Way, according to court documents. Deputies found Arredondo after she allegedly crashed into a home in her 2004 Cadillac Escalade and drove off. She told police she'd been drinking at two bars.
When deputies attempted to walk Arredondo to a nearby patrol car to take her to jail, she allegedly turned and spit in the face of one of the officers “without warning,” according to court documents.
Arredondo faces charges of driving under the influence, leaving the scene of a collision and third-degree assault of an officer. She is listed in custody of the Spokane County Jail.
The federal drug case continues its lengthy trek through the legal system. A jury trial in the case has been tentatively scheduled for May.
A Worley man who donned a cartoon character mask to rob an espresso stand in Coeur d’Alene last year will spend at least four years behind bars.
Kyle Ernest Campbell, 25, wore a SpongeBob SquarePants mask when he robbed Lean Bean Espresso at 1207 E. Sherman Ave. on Jan. 30, 2013.
Campbell, who pleaded guilty to armed robbery on Oct. 3, entered the stand armed with a handgun and demanded money from employees, who complied. He then fled on foot.
He was sentenced Monday by 1st District Judge Lansing Haynes to a prison term of four years fixed and another nine years indeterminate, with credit for time served.
Campbell has a lengthy arrest history, primarily on tribal charges, but only two convictions – for misdemeanor careless driving and minor in possession of alcohol, the Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said.
He acknowledged he has a substance abuse problem, the prosecutor’s office added.
Citing two mental health professionals who say his psychosis was a “one-time episode” that is now in remission, the attorney for the Spokane man charged with stalking a tribal police officer after federal investigators discovered a disturbing manifesto in his home is asking for her client's release.
Brent Russ has remained in custody of U.S. marshals since his arrest in September. At the time, federal agents following up on claims from a tribal police officer she was being stalked by Russ, a former neighbor, found modified weapons and a journal in the man's home that discussed establishing a “kill room” similar to that featured in the television program “Dexter” and a “download” that prompted him to file civil claims against the nation's biggest banks. He also wrote of being an agent of Azrael, the fabled Archangel of Death.
But with two doctors now writing after independent evaluations that Russ poses no threat to the community, attorney Andrea George is asking Russ be released pending his trial, scheduled for later this month.
George will make her case, and ask that the charge against Russ be dropped, at a hearing scheduled for later this week.