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Sirens & Gavels

Five nominated to Spokane Police Ombudsman Commission

The five candidates chosen by Spokane Mayor David Condon and the City Council to sit on the Police Ombudsman Commission were revealed today.

According to a statement put out by the mayor's office, the mayor chose Rachel Dolezal, a professor at Eastern Washington University and blogger for local weekly publication, The Inlander, and Kevin Berkompas, a  former Air Force colonel. 

The City Council chose Scott Richter, community indicators project manager at Eastern Washington University, Debra Conklin, pastor at Liberty Park United Methodist Church and Spokane Alliance member, and Adrian Dominguez, a Spokane Regional Health District epidemiologist. Dominguez has also thrown his name in the hat to replace former City Councilman Steve Salvatori, who resigned earlier this year.

The selections still must be approved by the City Council.

 

Man accused of billing Medicaid for services in Vietnam

A Spokane man pleaded not guilty this week to charges he stole more than $14,000 in pay and benefits from government programs.

Landon Armani is charged with theft and completing false applications for government assistance after local, state and federal authorities found holes in his story that he’d been caring for his aging Vietnamese mother since August 2012. Investigators say Armani’s mother was not in the United States when the son billed the government for more than $12,000 in services rendered as a Medicaid provider.

Armani told investigators he’d billed for services then sent the money overseas to a health care provider in Vietnam, according to court documents. That practice is outlawed by federal rules, however.

Trial pushed in ‘Kettle Falls 5’ case

The controversial federal trial of a marijuana growing co-operative calling themselves the “Kettle Falls 5” has been delayed so that defense attorneys can review new evidence obtained by prosecutors.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle granted a continuance of the trial last week. The case, brought by federal prosecutors against five Stevens County residents who say they were legally growing marijuana on property in rural Stevens County to treat medical conditions, could have far-reaching implications for the state’s budding pot industry.

The defendants face several criminal counts that carry mandatory sentences of 10 years in prison. A new trial date has not been set as attorneys review electronic materials they say prosecutors made available to them earlier this month. The trial had originally been scheduled to begin Monday.

Wanted man flips plain-clothes cop the bird

A wanted man was jailed earlier this month after he swore at and gave the finger to a plain-clothes sheriff's detective, then struck the detective and ran, according to court documents.

David E. Lee, 22, is in custody at the Geiger Corrections Facility. He faces charges of assaulting a police officer, obstruction and resisting arrest after a series of events around 8 p.m. on July 9 near Mount Spokane High School.

Lee was a passenger in a Chevy sedan that came upon two trucks, one pulled off to the side of North Lowe Road so the driver could take a photo of the sunset, she told investigators. The driver of the sedan sped past the two trucks, at which time Lee yelled profanity and “flipping the finger,” witnesses said. The driver of the second truck, Spokane County Sheriff's detective Shannon McCrillis, pulled the sedan over for a traffic stop.

A woman inside the car told police Lee asked whether McCrillis was a “real cop” because he had warrants out for his arrest. McCrillis said Lee was not compliant with his commands to keep his hands where he could see them during the stop, and when he tried to take Lee into custody on his warrants, the 22-year-old struck the detective with his elbow and ran to the woods nearby.

Police dog Laslo was eventually called in to take Lee into custody. Drug paraphernalia was found in a bag belonging to Lee inside the car, according to police reports.

Suspected van burner leaves trail of hard lemonade for police

A 60-year-old Spokane man was arrested on suspicions of arson after investigators found empty cans of Mike's Hard Lemonade at the scene of a scorching van and in the man's vehicle.

Steven Klemz was booked into Spokane County Jail early Thursday morning facing charges of arson and malicious mischief. Police were initially called to a home in the 6900 block of North G Street on Wednesday night around 10 p.m., according to court documents, after a home owner and Stemz got into an argument about yard work. An officer asked Stemz to leave, and he complied.

About two hours later, the home owner called police to say a van outside her home had been set ablaze and the tires of her nearby Chevy sedan slashed. The hoses in the yard had also been cut to prevent her from dousing the flames and the area was soaked in gasoline, she told investigators.

A neighbor reported hearing a bang shortly before midnight, shortly before the fire was reported. The neighbor also reported seeing Klemz in the yard. Found in a van nearby, Klemz denied involvement in the fire, but police found an empty Mike's Hard Lemonade can matching those found near the scene of the cut hoses and an empty gas can near the site of the fires.

Klemz's criminal history in Spokane County includes a burglary conviction in the 1970s, according to court records.

Police want ‘chronic offender’ to stay in jail

A Spokane police officer who monitors “chronic offenders” asked a judge this week to help keep a man considered one of the city’s most prolific burglars in jail by setting bail high.

Zachory J. Davis, 22, was arrested Wednesday on a charge of possession of a controlled substance after he was pulled over for driving erratically. Davis was already facing six charges of residential burglary in addition to charges of trafficking in stolen property, possession of stolen property and fourth-degree assault, all from last year.

Officer Kyle Yrigollen said he and his partner in the police department’s Chronic Offender Unit met with Davis eight times to offer him services to help him get out of his life of crime. He got a job, but then failed to show up for an appointment with Yrigollen, and Davis’ employer said he had stopped showing up for work.

Loud music leads to arrest

A man who refused to turn his music down after repeated visits from the Spokane Valley Police Department found himself temporarily housed in the Spokane County Jail.

An officer was called to the 1100 block of North University Road around 7:45 p.m. Monday on a noise complaint. The officer reported hearing the music well down the street and feeling the bass in his body, said police spokesman Deputy Craig Chamberlin. The resident, identified as 27-year-old Zachary Villareal, was less than cooperative and reportedly told the officer “This is the third time you guys have been here. Why don’t you just give me a ticket so I can go back to my music.”

Once Villareal made it clear he had no intention of lowering the volume he was arrested for a violation of the city’s noise ordinance, said Chamberlin.

Suspected robber uses spoils to spoil mother

A 24-year-old man used a credit card he swiped from a Spokane Valley shopper in a strong-arm April robbery to buy a Mother's Day present online, according to investigators.

Spokane Valley authorities searched several residences last week looking for Damian Plumley and evidence of the April 24 incident. A woman said she was walking from her car following a shopping trip when a man matching Plumley's description bumped her from behind, knocking her to the ground. The man took her purse, which contained several credit cards.

Detectives learned those credit cards were used to buy items at a local convenience store and at several department stores' websites. While searching Plumley's residence in the 11000 block of East Fourth Avenue, police found an electric tea kettle they confirmed was bought using the robbery victim's credit card.

Plumley's mother told police her son had bought it for her as a Mother's Day gift.

Plumley is in custody of the Spokane County Jail facing charges of robbery, identity theft, leaving the scene of an injury accident and possession of stolen property.

Dog rescued from Spokane River

The Spokane Fire Department’s technical rescue team pulled a cold and tired dog from the Spokane River Wednesday afternoon in Riverfront Park.

The dog apparently fell down a steep embankment and was spotted swimming in the river near Canada Island, said Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer. “It was an animal in distress,” Schaeffer said. “The only way to rescue the animal safely was to treat it as we would a human.”

Firefighters used their equipment to get down the embankment and save the dog. A harness was fashioned for the dog and firefighter/paramedic Kelly Hoyt held the dog as he was pulled up the steep slope.

The dog appeared tired and didn’t struggle, Schaeffer said. “I think the dog was very surprised and looking for some help,” he said.

The dog’s tags enabled the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service to contact its owner, part-time Spokesman-Review employee Mike McLaughlin. McLaughlin said that the dog, named Dana, was frightened by Tuesday’s thunderstorm and bolted outside while he was trying to come in the front door of his home.

Dana is fine and resting quietly, McLaughlin said, and shows no desire for leaving home again. “She’s pretty worn out,” he said.

Armed career criminal tries to check bag with gun at Northern Quest

A 54-year-old convicted felon tried to leave a bag containing drugs and a revolver at the Northern Quest Resort & Casino last week, prompting criminal charges and a federal investigation.

John B. Suttle was booked into Spokane County Jail on Friday after a coat check attendant reported he tried to check a bag containing a hypodermic needle. A later search of the bag revealed a .22 revolver and a substance that tested positive for methamphetamine and another that looked like heroin, according to court documents.

When asked about the gun, Suttle said he found it outside the casino and picked it up to sell because he needed money, according to court documents. Because of his prior convictions, an investigative agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived to interview Suttle, who said he knew he shouldn't be handling a gun as a convicted felon, according to court documents.

Suttle faces charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing drugs with intent to deliver.

Supreme Court decision prompts more restitution from Greg Jeffreys

A recently filed U.S. Supreme Court opinion has federal prosecutors asking for about $2 million more in restitution from jailed Spokane developer Greg Jeffreys, who pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud in a series of real estate schemes.

Sentencing documents filed ahead of a scheduled hearing in June had originally asked Jeffreys - who admitted in November to duping individual investors and banks on projects including condominiums, units in the downtown Ridpath Tower and a military facility off Highway 2 - to pay back $10.3 million. But a decision rendered in Washington, D.C., earlier this month in the case of a convicted mortgage fraudster out of Wisconsin prompted prosecutors to revise that amount closer to $12 million.

The unanimous decision in Robers v. United States, decided in a lightning-fast (for the court) 10 weeks after oral argument, overturned restitution guidelines set forth by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to prosecutors. While the Wisconsin court ruled Benjamin Robers, a man who bought two houses using fraudulent loan applications, must pay the difference between the amount the bank lent and how much the properties sold for after foreclosure, the Ninth Circuit had calculated restitution based on the value of forfeited properties at the time they were seized. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in February 2013 to settle the dispute in the way the two courts calculated restitution.

The decision affirming the Wisconsin court's practice increases the amount Jeffreys owes banks and investors on three properties that were foreclosed upon, prosecutors say in documents filed last week. This includes units in the downtown Ridpath tower.

Jeffreys' ex-wife, Kimberly Jeffreys, also pleaded guilty in February to a charge of fraud in dealings surrounding the military facility. She is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced in July for her role in the scheme, facing a potential six-month sentence and restitution of close to $160,000.

Shannon Stiltner, a woman who lived with Greg Jeffreys in Las Vegas and pleaded guilty in November to deliberately ignoring signs her boyfriend was swindling investors, is serving her seven-month sentence at a federal detention center in Seattle. Stiltner has been ordered to pay $58,000 in restitution and is scheduled for release in August.

Prosecutors have not filed requests to change Kimberly Jeffreys' or Shannon Stiltner's restitution amounts.

Second man accused of selling heroin arrested

Spokane police arrested 55-year-old Ernie Hern this week, the second of a pair accused of selling heroin out of a residence in the East Central neighborhood through March of last year.

Hern faces multiple possession and sale of drug charges after police used a confidential informant to buy heroin from him in January 2013, according to court documents. The informant allegedly twice bought heroin at home in the 200 block of Fiske Street, once from Hern and a second time a month later from Timothy Price, 36.

When authorities raided the house in March 2013, Price was there, but Hern wasn't. Price was arrested and scheduled to be arraigned, but never showed up, according to court records. He was taken back into custody last month and has pleaded not guilty to a drug trafficking charge.

Both Hern and Price have criminal histories that include past drug charges. Prosecutors are asking Hern be held on $1,000 bond in the new charge.

Spokane looking for Police Ombudsman Commission volunteers

Spokane is looking for volunteers to serve on the new Police Ombudsman Commission.

Applicants must undergo a background check and interviews. Application deadline is June 6 and city leaders want to have the five-member commission empaneled by mid-July.

Application materials are available at spokanecity.org.

The commission will provide independent oversight of the city's police ombudsman, who reviews internal investigations into police misconduct. The ombudsman was created following disclosure of the department's sloppy and incomplete investigation into the role of its own officers in the fatal 206 confrontation with Otto Zehm, who had been erroneously implicated in a theft and beaten, shocked with a Taser and hogtied by officers in a convenience store.

The U.S. Justice Department later described the investigation as a departmental coverup. Three officers eventually were indicted on federal charges.

Man pleads guilty to child pornography charges in federal court

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the man who pleaded guilty Monday. The story has been updated to correct the error.

A Spokane man caught by the Secret Service engaging in online trading of child pornography faces a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to a federal felony charge Monday.

Ryan Raymond Joseph Comerford will have to register as a sex offender in compliance with a plea deal reached in U.S. District Court. Comerford was indicted in September on multiple child pornography counts after a Secret Service sting revealed evidence he was using a peer-to-peer network to receive explicit images and videos featuring children.

Comerford pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released pending trial, which was scheduled for next week. He admitted using marijuana in violation of his release conditions, and was arrested again in January.

Defense attorneys were provided with the digital evidence in the case last month.

As part of the agreement, Comerford will remain on probation for 20 years after his release and be barred from contact with minors. A judge is expected to rule on the agreement in July.

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.

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