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Sirens & Gavels

Federal judge says witnesses can talk about houseboat shooting in assault case

Jurors in a federal case against a man who allegedly assaulted a National Park Service ranger last fall can hear details of the officer-involved shooting that followed, a federal judge ruled this week.

Michael Sublie faces criminal charges stemming from a confrontation on his houseboat moored at the Kettle River Campground in September. Ranger Matthew Phillipson claimed he heard pops after he said Sublie shoved his partner, Joshua Wentz, from the boat's gangplank during an altercation about loud music being played after campground quiet hours. Phillipson fired, striking boat occupant Casey Hartinger in the side.

U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush is hearing the case. In a pretrial conference last week at the federal courthouse in Spokane, Quackenbush heard arguments from defense attorney Roger Peven and U.S. Assistant Attorney Tyler Tornabene on the admissibility of testimony about the shooting.

The government said the shooting followed the alleged criminal activity, and thus should not be discussed at trial because it might prejudice a jury. Peven said the alleged assault and shooting took place at the same time and information about both should be admitted at trial.

“I contend they were contemporaneous, at worst,” Peven told Quackenbush last week. He said the events transpired in less time than it took to recount them.

Quackenbush said he had to determine whether the testimony about the shooting, as Hartinger is planned to be called as a witness, “would generate more heat than light.”

In a written ruling issued Monday, Quackenbush ruled limited testimony about the shooting would be allowed. Any discussion of whether the shooting was justified, that Phillipson acted negligently or used excessive force will not be allowed in the courtroom as that is the subject of an ongoing internal investigation and the parties are mulling civil action, Quackenbush said.

“None of those issues are before this court,” Quackenbush wrote.

Peven had also objected to an investigative agent from the National Park Service being allowed to sit at the prosecution's table during the trial. Quackenbush disagreed with Peven, and the agent will be allowed to confer with Tornabene throughout the trial.

Another conference is scheduled for mid-May, with a jury trial expected to begin later that month. Sublie faces up to a year-and-a-half in jail if convicted.

Jury denies claims by woman who sued Walmart for profiling

A Spokane jury found a Walmart employee did not assault a customer he believed was shoplifting in an altercation outside the Shadle Park location in December 2012.

Beyonce Nieves brought suit against the Arkansas-based retailer claiming a store loss prevention employee accosted her outside the store on suspicions she stole stockings from the Ladies Wear Department. Troy Nelson, an attorney for Walmart in the case, said the jury threw out the assault, outrage and unlawful detention claims in its verdict delivered earlier this week, ruling the employee's acts were reasonable.

Via email, Nelson said Walmart would be filing a proposed judgment in their favor in the coming days. Nelson thanked the jury and said he was pleased with the verdict.

Nieves claimed she had been profiled by the employee, saying she was approached for her physical appearance. Theft charges against her were later dropped for lack of evidence, according to court documents.

Spokane woman sues Walmart, claiming she was profiled

A Spokane jury will hear the civil case filed against Walmart by a woman who claims she was profiled as a shoplifter and humiliated by a store employee in December 2011.

 

Beyonce Nieves sued the Arkansas-based retailer in Spokane County Superior Court, asking for damages resulting from assault, unlawful imprisonment and outrage for an incident that took place at the Shadle Park location on Dec. 9, 2011. Attorneys for Walmart claim their employee, a store loss prevention officer, acted reasonably when he confronted Nieves outside the store, alleging she’d secreted some stockings in a backpack and walked out without paying.

 

The confrontation led to Nieves allegedly disrobing in the parking lot in an attempt to prove her innocence, pulling up her shirt and pulling down her pants, according to court documents. The police were called and charges against her were later dropped when investigators could not prove she’d stolen anything.

 

The employee said in court filings he witnessed Nieves place the stockings in the pocket of her hooded sweatshirt. Attorneys for Walmart also want jurors to hear about a previous incident at a Fred Meyer store in which Nieves was captured on video “engaging in a crime of dishonesty” similar to the alleged Walmart shoplifting, according to court documents.

 

Nieves claims that she was singled out for surveillance because of her physical appearance. Security video will be played at trial, in which Nieves claims there is no evidence she took any items without paying.

 

Walmart has denied the allegations against itself and its employee through an attorney. The company claims Nieves was responsible for whatever consequences, physical or otherwise, resulted from the incident.

Houseboat owner says he was recorded following shooting

The owner of a houseboat charged with assaulting a National Park Service ranger during a dispute about loud music before another opened fire, injuring a guest, says he was recorded secretly after the shooting.

Michael Sublie has been charged with assault and obstruction of justice stemming from the Sept. 14 incident at the Kettle River Campground just northwest of Kettle Falls. According to court documents, rangers Joshua Wentz and Matthew Phillipson approached Sublie's boat - moored for an end-of-the-summer party, witnesses said – after 10 p.m., established quiet hours on the secluded, federally owned property.

Wentz used pepper spray and a stun gun in an attempt to subdue Sublie, then was pushed from the gangplank, according to court documents filed last week. Phillipson opened fire with his service weapon, striking passenger Casey Hartinger in the side.

Hartinger was standing near his children, aged 10 and 14, when he was fired upon, according to court documents.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Tyler Tornabene asked a judge to preclude all evidence of the shooting from jurors' ears, arguing Phillipson fired after the commission of the alleged crimes. But Sublie's attorney, Roger Peven, said in filings Tuesday the events occurred simultaneously, and it would confuse jurors to divide the two.

“The shooting happened literally during the middle of the interaction between Mr. Sublie and Ranger Wentz when Ranger Phillipson discharged his weapon,” Peven wrote.

Peven also alleges that Sublie was surreptitiously recorded by National Park Service rangers during a discussion with a local police officer who responded to the scene. Sublie was placed in a National Forest Service patrol car when he spoke with the officer, whom he knew, according to court documents. Peven wrote rangers placed a recording device in the car to keep tabs on what was said.

Hartinger received medical attention from medical technicians already present at the scene, according to court documents. He was later treated at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane and released. He has not been charged with any crimes in the incident.

A jury trial in the case is tentatively scheduled for May. Sublie, who is not in custody and has no other criminal history, faces up to a year-and-a-half in prison if convicted.

Gonzaga’s role in yard sale lawsuit sparks “Breaking Bad” parody

The tale of how a yard sale dispute ended up costing a Spokane Valley man nearly $5,000 has prompted spirited debate in the SR's comment fields over the role of Gonzaga Law School's University Legal Assistance program.

Frequent commenter Loudin even posted the cleverly assembled parody meme shown above. The growing comment string can be found below the online version of the article.

As detailed by SR reporter Kip Hill, Gonzaga law students participating in the school program represented a man who bought a 50-year-old boat for $950 at a yard sale and then complained about its condition. The seller failed to adequately respond to the university's correspondence, which meant the case ended up being decided on procedure rather than its merits

Fans of the widely acclaimed but now ended TV series “Breaking Bad” will recognize the character Saul as the ambulance-chasing lawyer who made his living on frivolous lawsuits and keeping drug dealers out of prison.

Spokane Valley adds more cops

At a time when many cities are still scrambling to find ways to add police or fill positions left vacant to help balance budgets, Spokane Valley has green-lighted a plan that puts more deputies on the streets when they're needed most.

City Council members agreed last night to add two additional deputies as part of a reorganization of the patrol division that includes creation of a fifth platoon to augment day and night shift staffing. The goal is to have more patrol deputies on the street when demand for police services tends to be highest.

The city pays the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office about $17 million a year to provide law enforcement coverage under a contract that dedicates about 100 deputies to Spokane Valley, with nearly half of them assigned to patrol duties. The others include administrators, supervisors, detectives and school resource officers. The city also provides a police station, equipment and vehicles.

Cost of the plan is about $423,000, which includes equipment upgrades, though city officials believe it could be less because it will take some time before the sheriff’s office is able to get the additional deputies on board. Recurring annual costs to the city of the two additional deputies is about $350,000, which includes benefits and the city’s share of the county’s costs for employee administrative services.

Under the proposed reorganization, the rank of corporal would be eliminated and the positions redistributed. Three would be upgraded to sergeants, two would be turned into detectives and one position converted to patrol deputy in the new platoon.

The two new deputies plus one deputy from each of the existing four platoons would be transferred to the new “power shift” platoon. The deputies would augment staffing by working from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., which overlaps the day and night shifts and is when Spokane Valley sees its greatest demand for police services.

Smoking hazardous to wanted man’s health, presumed innocence

A man with an outstanding warrant revealed a needle in his waistband while reaching for one last smoke before going to jail Sunday night at Northern Quest Casino, according to court records.

An officer initially approached Preston Livingston, 28, because he was slumped over in the driver's seat of a pickup truck at the Airway Heights casino, according to court records. Livingston told the officer, who said it appeared as though Livingston were drunk, that he was waiting for a friend who was inside, according to court records.

A check of Livingston's records revealed a warrant for his arrest. When the officer told Livingston he would be taken into custody, Livingston asked for one last cigarette before going to jail. While reaching for the smoke, the officer noticed the needle in Livingston's waistband.

After handcuffing Livingston, the officer again checked the truck. Near the console, he spied another needle, a tourniquet, a scale and a black pouch, according to court records. When asked about the items, Livingston told the officer his friend was using them to get high and that he used methamphetamine, but hadn't in the past 10 hours.

Livingston was released from jail without bail, according to jail records. No charges have yet been filed against him for the drug paraphernalia, according to court records.

Suspected drunken driver crashes near off-duty deputy’s home

A man suspected of drunken driving had his keys confiscated by an off-duty Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy who witnessed the man trying to drive over some boulders near Liberty Park, according to court documents.

Wayne Pederson crashed his Toyota pickup near a trailhead at the park just south of Interstate 90 in Central Spokane earlier this week. A sheriff's deputy who was home at the time of the crash left his home to find Pederson trying to drive over a boulder that was blocking the trail, he told investigating officers.

Pederson then fell out of his truck, according to court documents. The deputy took Pederson's keys and called law enforcement, who arrived and conducted a sobriety test. The investigating officer listed Pederson's level of impairment as “obvious.”

Pederson refused a breathalyzer and blood draw at the scene, according to court documents.

Jeffreys sentencing delayed again

A judge has ordered the sentencing for married couple Greg and Kimberly Jeffreys, both of whom pleaded guilty to defrauding development investors in Spokane and elsewhere, pushed to the summer.

For Greg Jeffreys, the accused mastermind of schemes ranging from leasing property at inflated rices in the restored Ridpath Hotel downtown and bilking the federal government of funds in the construction of a military installation off Highway 2, it is the second continuance granted ahead of sentencing. Prosecutors want Jeffreys to serve eight years in prison and pay back millions in restitution from fraudulent schemes, but Jeffreys plans to fight that amount by calling a cavalcade of witnesses at his sentencing hearing.

That hearing will now tentatively take place in June, according to a court order signed last week.

Kimberly Jeffreys, who pleaded guilty in February to fraud charges stemming from the military installation construction, was granted her first sentencing continuance. A hearing scheduled for next month has been pushed to July, according to court records. For her involvement, prosecutors want Kimberly Jeffreys to spend six months in prison and pay restitution of up to $150,000.

A third conspirator, Shannon Stiltner, was sentenced in February to seven months of prison time and ordered to pay restitution to two investors totaling about $58,000.

Would-be booze robber leaves store without liquor, freedom

A man accused of stealing a $13 bottle of vodka from a Spokane grocery store was arrested on suspicion of first-degree robbery after he allegedly punched a clerk and heaved the liquor bottle into the road.

Chad Burk, 40, was arrested late Friday after witnesses said he left a Safeway store on North Market Street without paying for his alcohol. A clerk watched Burk grab a bottle of vodka and a can of beer, walk to the frozen foods section and place the can of beer inside. Burk placed the vodka in his jacket and walked out without paying, according to the store clerk.

The clerk chased Burk out of the store, where Burk allegedly punched him twice and pushed him up against a wall. The employee wrestled Burk to the ground when police arrived.

At some point during the altercation, Burk threw the vodka into the street, according to court records.

Burk was released from custody without bond this weekend. He is expected to make a first-appearance on the charge against him Monday afternoon.

Ricin suspect ordered to obtain psychiatric evaluation

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.

Rex Newport makes Alford plea

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.


Documents:

Pair of alleged ‘best friend’ teenage car thieves arrested

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.

Say, “cheese” Einstein

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.

Stiltner receives 7-month sentence

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.

 

Five idling vehicles stolen this week alone

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:

  • 2-09-14 at 6:00 am at 6000 N. Alberta.
  • 2-10-14 at 7:00 am at 2200 N. Dakota.  The vehicle was recovered on 2-10-14 at 2400 N. Cincinnati.
  • 2-11-14 at 8:30 am at 6400 N. Sutherlin.  The vehicle was recovered on 2-11-14 near the intersection of Walnut/Garland.
  • 2-11-14 at 7:00 am at 600 E. Mission.  The vehicle was recovered on 2-12-14 near the intersection of Sutherlin/Taft.
  • 2-13-14 at 7:30 am at 3100 E. Indiana.  The vehicle was recovered on 2-13-14 near the intersection of Regal/Upriver.

Traffic cameras capture part of standoff

 

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.

Accused car thief back in court

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.

 

Man arrested on DUI suspicion blames mom who isn’t there

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.

Where Spokane’s homicides occurred in 2013

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.

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