A Spokane sports broadcaster is demanding an apology and reimbursement for legal fees after an airport police officer cited him for leaving his 2-year-old daughter alone in an illegally parked car.
Paul A. Sorensen, 38, a radio commentator for Washington State University football games and other amateur sports, is scheduled to take his demand to the Spokane Airport Board on Wednesday morning.
He was cited April 24 at Spokane International Airport by an airport police officer.
A criminal charge against Sorensen later was dismissed by the county prosecuting attorney’s office.
Sorensen acknowledges he left the girl in the car while he and his two sons checked their luggage aboard an Alaska Airlines flight to Los Angeles. But he says it was only for about five minutes and that she was in no danger as she slept in her safety seat.
“As fast as you can check in three people and four bags, I (was) back” to the car, he said.
Sorensen contends officer Carol Brookshire is “badge-happy” and slammed his finger in his car door. During an interview Monday, he called Brookshire “Broomhilda” and accused airport officials of “basically lying to cover themselves.”
Sorensen’s story varies greatly from the report filed by Brookshire and from the account of a skycap who says he witnessed the incident. They say the child was in the car about 15 minutes as Brookshire twice used the airport paging system to ask that the owner of the red Chevrolet Blazer return to the car.
Brookshire denied injuring Sorensen’s finger. Skycap Tim Waggoner corroborated Brookshire’s report that Sorensen became belligerent and used abusive language.
Sorensen, a former All-American defensive back at WSU, “was very angry,” Waggoner said. “He said a few explicit words, swear words. In my head, I thought, ‘Don’t be yelling at her; it just makes things worse.”’
Brookshire, who could not be reached for comment Monday, cited Sorensen for the gross misdemeanor of leaving children unattended in a car while going into a tavern or other business that serves alcohol. She picked that charge because some airport businesses serve drinks, said airport police chief Peter Troyer.
The charges were dismissed May 28 on the recommendation of Deputy Prosecutor Bill Jennison, who also was unavailable Monday.
Jennison’s supervisor, Kathryn Lee, wasn’t familiar with the case but said the charge probably was inappropriate since Sorensen was in a part of the airport where drinking is not allowed. Without firsthand knowledge of the case, Lee said she doesn’t know whether Sorensen could have been charged with child endangerment or any other crime.
Sorensen’s attorney, former federal prosecutor John Lamp, said his client did nothing criminal. The weather at 7:30 a.m. was cool, and the girl was in no danger, said Lamp, adding that Brookshire should be punished for misconduct.
“I don’t know if she had a bad hair day or what,” Lamp said.
The Federal Aviation Administration forbids parking outside airport terminals as a security precaution. Cars can be ticketed or towed.
Sorensen said he ignored the no-parking signs because he wanted to be as close as possible to Alaska’s baggage counter.
He had picked up his children from his estranged wife’s South Hill home about 7 a.m. for the 8:30 a.m. flight and was struggling to deal with three children - ages 5, 4 and 2 - three pieces of carry-on baggage and four suitcases. The family was headed for Disneyland.
Sorensen said he thought Brookshire was citing him for illegal parking, “which is not a big deal. Instead, she writes me up for abandoning my child, which is a criminal offense.
“… They’re trying to paint me as a guy who’s a horrible father, a disgusting human being. How many disgusting human beings do you know who would … take their three kids to Disneyland?”
Brookshire wrote that Sorensen first ignored her attempts to talk to him and that she had to ask three times before he begrudgingly showed his driver’s license.
But Sorensen said he got angry only after Brookshire had shut the door on the middle finger of his right hand.
“You bet I was” upset, he said when asked if he had used abusive language. “I’ve still got a black-and-blue finger.”
Troyer said his investigation shows Brookshire did nothing wrong.
“The officer told me, without question, she was positive that his hand was not caught in the door at any time,” Troyer said.
Waggoner confirmed seeing Brookshire standing beside the Blazer’s driver’s-side door to keep Sorensen from getting in and driving away.
“He was just going to take off, and she wouldn’t let him,” Waggoner said.
Airport Director John Morrison said he doubts Sorensen will get an apology or any money from the Airport Board. Sorensen, he said, showed poor judgment in leaving a toddler locked in a car.
“I’ve got kids, and I can’t imagine doing that,” Morrison said.
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