Stanley Tinsley’s claim that he was brutalized by Spokane police could foster better relations between the department and the city’s African-American community.
Police administrators and black leaders said Tuesday they plan to open better lines of communication in the wake of accusations made by Tinsley, an East Central resident who says he was unjustly attacked and arrested earlier this month.
As a result of Tinsley’s complaint, police and minority residents plan to hold periodic forums in an attempt to smooth their rocky relationship.
“I come from New York City and there was a great admiration, a great respect, a great trust for the police,” said the Rev. Percy “Happy” Watkins, co-president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“We don’t have that here. We need to repair this. We need to do some rebuilding here.”
The police department has launched an internal investigation into Tinsley’s accusations.
Tinsley, 41, claims he was assaulted by several white police officers Feb. 9 near Fourth and Green.
The black, disabled house-framer said his 17-year-old son called home that evening from a nearby relative’s house and said he was in trouble.
Tinsley, who moved to Spokane from Arkansas 11 years ago, said he and his brother-in-law went to see what was happening.
Several officers apparently were on the scene, investigating a suspected car prowler.
“I ran around the corner and saw a lot of flashing (police) lights,” Tinsley said. “I yelled out, ‘What’s going on?”’
Tinsley said one of the white officers walked toward him and shouted for him to “take your damn hands out of your pockets.”
“Which I did,” Tinsley said.
He said the officer kept coming, grabbed him by the arm, twisted it violently behind his back and slammed him face-down on the ground. The first officer and as many as two others struck Tinsley in the back and head several times as they handcuffed him, he added.
The police department wouldn’t identify the officers involved in the incident. They are still on the job pending the outcome of the investigation, said Dick Cottam, police spokesman.
Assistant Chief Dave Peffer said internal affairs investigators are still interviewing the officers and several witnesses.
“Right now, I’m not sure what went on out there,” Peffer said.
Tinsley, who has no criminal history in Spokane County, said he was taken to jail that night and charged with obstructing an officer and resisting arrest.
He said his wife paid the $130 bail and took him to the hospital, where he said he was diagnosed with ligament or tendon damage in his arm.
The next day, Watkins led a group of nearly 40 African-Americans to the Public Safety Building and demanded an audience with Police Chief Terry Mangan and his top assistants.
During the hour-long meeting, the group complained that Tinsley’s treatment by police was typical, Watkins said.
Spokane police and sheriff’s deputies often stop African-Americans for trivial things, such as having snow covering their license plates or failing to signal a right-hand turn, Watkins said.
Officers often explain the stops by saying they’re investigating gang activity, Watkins said.
“We have these skinhead gangs running around Spokane,” he said. “Do they stop every white man who’s bald? Probable cause can’t be ‘black.”’ Peffer said the police department has a national reputation for successful community outreach programs and diversity training.
There is a genuine commitment to improve relations between the department and all segments of the community, he added.
In many cases, he said, that commitment is ignored or given short shrift, which leads to hard feelings among officers.
Peffer pointed out that Tinsley’s case was discussed at length during a NAACP meeting Monday night, yet no one from the police department was invited to attend.
“Last night’s meeting comes as a surprise, and a discouraging surprise,” he said.
Watkins said he is working on a plan to schedule periodic meetings between police commanders, officers and minority residents. The forums would give everyone a chance to talk things out, he said.
Peffer said that could go a long way to improving relations.
“We haven’t had a lot of success with that kind of thing in the past,” he said. “But we don’t often have the opportunity to have young black men come to the police department to express their concerns. I see this as an opportunity.”