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Sirens & Gavels

Archive for November 2012

New traffic school looking for students

Next time a motor officer hands you a traffic violation, you could be eligible for a seat in the city’s new traffic school.

The county already has a traffic school, but now the city does as well.The six-hour course starts Jan. 5 and gives drivers an alternative to a violation stamped on their insurance or driving record through Spokane Municipal Court.

One of the instructors, officer Nate Spiering calls the course a good first option for drivers that are offered the course. Depending on the traffic violation, drivers are handed a flyer for the class while they’re handed a ticket.

Spiering says once the course is completed, the violation is gone, like it never existed.

For some drivers, the class will be a refresher course, others - a revelation.

“Some people have been through driver’s (education) in the past six months, some never had,” Spiering said. “We’re hoping for a full encompassing education back to the public.”

The course will be taught at Spokane Police Academy and will focus on the correlation between speeding and distractions like cell phones. They’ll also talk about bicycle and pedestrian safety and other rules of the road that are unique to Spokane like u-turn restrictions in the city limits.

When drivers receive a ticket, they have 15 days to apply for the course. When you go to the municipal court clerk’s office for your ticket, you can pay $124, which is the standard penalty for a ticket in Washington state if you’re caught not wearing a seat belt or using your cell phone, for the class.

There are a couple more conditions at Spokane Police’s website that explain who is eligible and who is not so if you’re stuck with a ticket right now, check out the requirements and see if the traffic school is an option for you.

Prankster tries wiping slate clean

PORTALES, N.M. (AP) — University officials say a New Mexico college graduate, apparently feeling guilty over a student prank years ago, has sent a box of toilet paper to repay the school for loot taken from a dormitory.

Eastern New Mexico University says it received the yuletide gift box this week along with a Christmas card and written apology.

The box contained five packages of 16 rolls of two-ply, septic-safe tissue for a total of 80 rolls.

The anonymous writer apologized for stealing bathroom tissue years ago and said a new dedication to Christian faith led to the deed.

It was unclear whether the gift itself was a prank. But university officials say “all is forgiven.”

The toilet paper is being donating to a nearby charity because it doesn't fit the school's dispensers.

Jury deadlocked in judge threat trial

A jury deadlocked today leading to a mistrial for a man facing the rare charge of intimidation of a judge.

Timothy A. Hays, 50, had faced between 15 and 20 months in prison after he was charged with threatening Municipal Court Judge Michelle Szambelan on Sept. 7.

The trial before Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor included the unusual twist of having at two judges and a court commissioner testify as witnesses.

Hays admitted to approaching the door of Szambelan’s chambers, knocking on the door and then getting into the judge’s face about a ruling she made in April 2011 during a case where she sentenced Hays to 10 days in jail for obstructing an officer.

“I’m going to going to cut you down,” he told Szambelan. She and fellow Municipal Court Judge Mary Logan alerted court security. Officers then arrested Hays, who was drunk at the time.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Compton  argued to the jury that Hays was simply exercising his right as a citizen to verbally dissent to Szambelan’s previous ruling.

“Mr. Hays went to a public building during business hours,” Compton said. Szambelan “is an elected official. She is not some sort of royalty. Like any public official, you are going to be subject to criticism.”

Compton said Hays did not use the “nice legal language” to say he objected to her previous ruling.

“The language itself is pretty ambiguous,” Compton said of the “cut you down” comment. “It might not have been the most polite way to do this. Who are we to say when you complain that you can’t do it in person?”

But Deputy Prosecutor Deric Martin argued that Hays comment had “nothing to do about dissent. This is about a threat. This is past protected speech.”

Martin challenged Compton’s analogy of comparing Hays’ comment to fans yelling obscenities at referees at a sporting event.

“The example we had was not that. It was more akin to going to the referee’s locker room after the game and saying, ‘You ruined my life,’” Martin said. Hays “went beyond dissent … and entered the world of illegal threat.”

Weekend stabbing being investigated as self-defense

A man suspected of stabbing another man on Saturday night near the intersection of Nelson and Wabash, was never arrested because the incident is being investigated as self-defense, says Spokane Police spokeswoman officer Jennifer DeRuwe.

Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office is calling the manner of the victim’s death a homicide.

The victim, who was later identified as 25-year-old Robert H. Fletcher, died from multiple stab wounds and incised wounds, says medical examiner officials. Fletcher was pronounced dead after he was transported to a local hospital.

Witnesses told police the name of the possible suspect and he was located nearby.

Police have yet to identify him since they’re still investigating the homicide.

Shopping firefighter investigates smoke at White’s Boots

Is there a firefighter in the house? When employees of White's Boots smelled smoke this morning at their east Spokane store, there was.

The firefighter was shopping for boots at the 4002 E. Ferry Avenue store and even checked out the smoke for them. He advised employees to call 911 as a precaution, employees said.

Nothing was showing when Spokane Fire crews arrived, but they investigated and found an overloaded heating system. It was shut off to prevent further damage.

Now employees are preparing for a cool day outside and inside.

Thompson appeals Zehm conviction

Just as he promised last week after the sentencing, the attorney for convicted Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. filed notice today that he intends to appeal several aspects of the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle sentenced Thompson last week to 51 months in federal prison for using excessive force and lying to investigators about his confrontation in 2006 with Otto Zehm. The mentally disabled janitor died two days after the struggle in which he suffered 13 baton strikes and several shocks with a Taser.

Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich filed his notice today indicating that Thompson will challenge the decisions by Van Sickle to deny the motion for release pending appeal; his order refusing to dismiss the case; his refusal to order a new trial and several other rulings.

Thompson, 65, remains incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center – Sea Tac in Seattle, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Read previous coverage here.

Federal prosecutor says Spokane has good police force

U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby, whose office handled the excessive force prosecution of former Spokane police officer Karl Thompson, took deliberate steps Thursday to praise the trustworthiness of the local police force overall.

“That's not an indictment of our entire police department,” Ormsby said just moments after Thompson was ordered to serve more than four years in prison for the fatal 2006 confrontation with Otto Zehm. “We have a good police department.”

Although Ormsby still supports calls for an in-depth Justice Department probe of the Spokane police department, he noted that several steps have been taken since Thompson's conviction last year to improve the department's accountability.

He said the city's Use of Force Commission has been asked by Mayor David Condon to not only examine the department's past practices but to recommend a “path forward.” Ormsby said he believes the commission's recommendations, particularly with a City Hall and police department committed to improvement, could go a long way to helping restore community trust in the police force.

Inmates claim gangs are running Idaho prison

A group of inmates is suing Idaho, saying the contractor running the state's private prison is cutting back on labor costs by letting prison gangs help run the prison.

Among other things, the litigants claim that gang leaders inside the Idaho Correctional Center are consulted by prison staff before new inmates are placed into certain cell blocks.

Prison officials dispute any suggestion of impropriety, saying they take various steps to insure security for all inside the facility.

But recognizing and conferring with gang leaders, the plaintiffs argue, strengthens the gang culture by legitimizing its authority.

Here's a link to an Associated Press article about the lawsuit.

Gregoire looking for guidance from feds on pot

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire will meet with Deputy Attorney General James Cole to discuss the state's recent passage of a measure to legalize and tax the sale of marijuana for recreational use.

Gregoire spokesman Cory Curtis said that the governor would be meeting with Cole Tuesday morning before other meetings she was already scheduled to have in Washington, D.C.

Initiative 502 passed with 55 percent of the vote last week. The measure decriminalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana beginning Dec. 6, but the state has a year to come up with rules governing the growing, processing and labeling of pot before sales to adults over 21 can begin. Colorado also passed a measure legalizing the drug.

Curtis said Gregoire wanted to meet with federal officials because “we want direction from them.”

Former SPD Chief lands new post

It appears that former Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick's search for a new job has ended. King County voters chose John Urquhart as their sheriff; Urquhart, you'll recall, vowed earlier this year to hire Kirkpatrick, who left late last year after serving five years as Spokane's top cop.

Urqhart spent 24 years with the King County Sheriff's Office in various roles and had a commanding lead in votes over Sheriff Steve Strachan, who was appointed to the post by the King County Council in April.

Kirkpatrick, who announced when she came to Spokane that she intended to stay just five years, sparred with the Spokane Police Guild and called out officers to change the culture of both the union and the department.

State estimates legal pot will sell for $12/gram

The state Liquor Control Board, responsible for regulating and taxing marijuana in Washington state, estimates the price of legal pot will average $12 per gram.

That's among the interesting tidbits in this Liquor Control Board fact sheet, which the agency has posted to a new web page designed to help Washington residents keep track of progress to develop regulations for growing and selling marijuana.

In addition to licensing fees, there's a 25 percent excise tax at the wholesale level and another 25 percent excise tax at the retail level. Estimates vary on the amount of tax revenue expected to be generated.

Felon hides from Police inside car trunk

A felon wanted on multiple Idaho warrants hid in the trunk of a car during a traffic stop hoping to hide from police last week.

Sheriff’s deputies say they saw 27-year-old Justin R. Brown get into a car as a passenger just after midnight on Friday and knew North Idaho Violent Crimes Task Force was looking for Brown in the area of Third Avenue and Freya Street, said a news release.

A multi-agency response brought officers from Spokane Police along to pull over the vehicle near Sprague Avenue and Havana Street.

But Brown was missing from the vehicle when they looked inside and it was determined he had crawled into the trunk of the modern Chevy Impala through the back seat prior to the stop. Police believe Brown was holding the trunk closed because the trunk switch did not work.

Brown eventually got out of the trunk after several audible orders were given by police including the warning that they’d use a Spokane Police K-9 unit to get him out.

Deputies took Brown into custody on felony fugitive charges and he was extradited to Kootenai County Jail where he faces multiple offenses with over $160,000 in bail.

Deputies arrest suspected Spokane Valley burglar

Police say the victim of a recent burglary eyed a suspicious man prowling around a neighbor’s home in Spokane Valley last week.

Spokane County sheriff’s deputies searched the 11200 block of east Aloha Court on Friday afternoon for the alleged suspect but were unable to find him until another neighbor saw the suspect in his backyard, said a news release.

Deputy Walker ran to the home’s backyard and saw the suspect, later identified as 21-year-old Michael G. Mendez, jump a fence.

More deputies responded to the neighborhood and Mendez was located within minutes.

The news release said Mendez had been hiding in the home next door while deputies checked out the original location of the prowling call.

Witnesses told police Mendez hid property under the deck of a home as he ran to hide from police. Deputies recovered that property and believe it is stolen goods.

Mendez was booked into Spokane County Jail for felony residential burglary, three misdemeanor charges for criminal trespass and obstruction of an officer.

He’s to be arraigned next week with a $75,000 bail on his charges.

Man flees police, collides with vehicle in downtown intersection

A driver being pursued by Spokane Police for reckless driving in downtown Spokane hit another driver on Saturday evening.

The female victim had minor injuries when the other driver, later identified as 29-year-old Noah T. Grant, hit her vehicle in the intersection of 2nd Avenue and Jefferson Street.

Officer Micah Prim spotted Grant around 5:40 p.m. during a license plate check of a Nissan Pathfinder at Maple Street and 4th Avenue. The registered owner had an active felony warrant, said police in court documents.

The driver had difficulties turning left on 4th Avenue, ending up on the curb, making the officer believe he may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Officer Prim turned on his patrol lights, but the driver kept going and even accelerated when the sirens were flipped on.

The driver sped past a responding Corporal’s vehicle and ran a red light hitting another car in the intersection.

Police said in court documents that Grant fled the vehicle and ran down Railroad Alley where he slipped into a fenced area populated with wine racks. Frantically, Grant realized he was trapped. Another responding officer climbed the tall pile of wine racks into the fenced area and arrested Grant.

A switchblade knife found near Grant’s vehicle in the roadway was picked up as evidence.

Grant was booked into Spokane County Jail for vehicle hit and run with injury, attempt to elude a pursuing police vehicle, possession of a dangerous weapon, resisting arrest, driving with a suspended license and reckless driving.

He’s to be arraigned next week with a $25,000 bail on his charges.

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