A Newport policeman is under investigation for allegations that he broke into a house and pulled his gun on a family to arrest a man who harassed him on the telephone.
The Washington State Patrol expects to wrap up its investigation late next week and present its findings to Newport and Pend Oreille County prosecutors for possible charges against patrolman Ed Miller.
Miller has been suspended from his $22,128-a-year job since Oct. 11, two days after his disputed arrest of Newport resident Troy Dexter. Miller, who declined to comment, is still drawing his salary.
Police Chief Gary Markwardt declined to release details of Miller’s confrontation with Dexter early on Oct. 9. Markwardt confirmed, though, that Sheriff Doug Malby has been highly critical of Miller.
Dexter said he was sleeping when Miller knocked about 3:30 a.m. and then kicked open two doors to get in. Once inside, Dexter said, Miller slammed him into a wall and struck him a couple of times on the back and the back of his head.
“Then he started spraying a can of pepper spray in my face,” Dexter said, adding that he “passively resisted” while Miller emptied the can.
Miller reluctantly allowed him to go to a sink to rinse his eyes, Dexter said. He said Miller pointed a pistol at his wife, Betsy, and their 9-year-old daughter, Celeste, and ordered them to go into a bedroom and close the door.
“He said, ‘You all get in that room right now or I’ll shoot you,”’ said Betsy Dexter, 36. “I never had a pounding heart like that.”
She said Miller pointed the gun at her husband and tried to force the bedroom door to close while she struggled to keep it open slightly.
Dexter said he quit resisting arrest because of the professionalism of a sheriff’s deputy who came to back up the city officer. Even so, Dexter said Miller slammed him into a doorjamb after he was handcuffed, causing a still-visible inch-long vertical cut between his eyebrows.
He was quickly released from jail when Pend Oreille County Prosecutor Tom Metzger refused to file felony charges against him.
Metzger said Miller’s report failed to present enough evidence to support a felony charge of intimidating a public officer.
As for third-degree assault during the arrest scuffle, “you’d have to be making a lawful arrest and, until an investigation is completed, that certainly isn’t entirely clear,” Metzger said.
Newport Prosecutor Mark Hanley last week withdrew two misdemeanor charges he filed: resisting arrest and obstructing a public official by tying up the sheriff’s emergency telephone line. Hanley said he needed more time for investigation, and may restore the charges and add others.
Hanley declined to discuss details of the case, but said he thinks Miller pulled his gun after scuffling with Dexter. He said Miller did not have a warrant to enter Dexter’s house.
An officer can break into a house if it appears lives are in jeopardy or evidence is being destroyed.
“What were the exigent circumstances in this case?” Dexter’s attorney, Dennis Scott, asked. “Was he afraid Mr. Dexter would flush the telephone down the toilet?”
Scott said he doesn’t think Dexter is without blame, but he scoffed at the idea that telephone threats could justify entering a family’s house in the middle of the night for a strong-armed arrest.
Dexter has filed a $100,000 claim against the city to pave the way for a lawsuit.
He said his arrest was just the latest in a pattern of harassment by Miller, whom he accuses of targeting poor people. Court records show Dexter has no felony convictions in the county, but five traffic charges since May including an unresolved drunken-driving count.
Dexter said he placed two calls to the sheriff’s department, which dispatches city police calls, to complain about impoundment of his car while it was being driven by a friend. Between those calls, Dexter said Miller called him and “we basically got into calling each other names and stuff … but I didn’t threaten his person.”
Sheriff’s records indicate Dexter told a dispatcher “something to the effect that he was going to get Officer Miller tonight.”
Sheriff Malby is another of Miller’s detractors. Malby complained in a Feb. 8 letter to Police Chief Markwardt that Miller’s contacts with citizens were “very unprofessional.”
In addition, Markwardt confirmed, Malby warned verbally that the sheriff’s department might conduct its own investigation before booking some of Miller’s prisoners into the county jail.
The Dexter incident was not the first time citizens have complained about Miller or that he has claimed to have been assaulted. In May, a jury acquitted a drunken-driving suspect of an assault charge for allegedly punching Miller in the stomach.
City officials said a Forest Service employee, who is black, complained of harassment earlier this year when Miller stopped him three times for traffic offenses and once for being inside the Forest Service office after hours - all within a few weeks. A judge dismissed the only charge against the man: disobeying a stop sign.
Markwardt acknowledged that Miller draws more complaints than the department’s two other officers, but said that may be because he writes most of the department’s tickets. He said Miller may write more tickets because more violations occur during his 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift.
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