Spokane County sheriff’s deputies, apparently horsing around in downtown Spokane earlier this month, led unsuspecting city police on a bogus chase that ended with two damaged police cars and guns drawn at a plainclothes deputy.
The deputies appear to have violated state law and department policy by engaging in the unnecessary chase, said sheriff’s spokesman Cpl. Dave Reagan.
“The sheriff was very embarrassed to have to go to the chief of another agency and apologize,” Reagan said. “Nobody has a very good explanation of what occurred other than it appears to be horseplay that has gone seriously awry.”
Reagan said he cannot release the names of the deputies until an investigation is complete. The deputies, who were hired in 2002, have not been suspended and remain at work.
The chase started early on Oct. 3 when a deputy in a marked patrol car turned on its lights and chased two deputies in an unmarked Mustang, apparently as a gag, Reagan said.
The three had just completed a routine traffic stop at Sprague Avenue and Helena Street and were headed to the Public Safety Building to end their shifts. When the deputy in the marked car turned on its lights, deputies in the unmarked Mustang accelerated, Reagan said. After the cars turned north on Division, a city police officer saw the chase and thought the deputy was trying to make a legitimate stop.
The officer radioed information about the chase into dispatch, Reagan said. The deputies continued west on Spokane Falls Boulevard and north on Post Street.
City officers who were at Anthony’s Restaurant, just north of the Post Street Bridge, on a false alarm, heard calls about the chase and laid a spike strip across Lincoln Street.
One of the Mustang’s tires hit the strip, bringing the chase to an end, and the deputy exited the car with police guns pointed at him, Reagan said.
“They were yelling at him to ‘get on the ground, get on the ground,’ ” Reagan said.
As the deputy tried to explain, an arriving Spokane police officer saw the plainclothes deputy and thought he was not cooperating with police, Reagan said. The officer quickly exited his car to assist but apparently did not put the car in park, Reagan said. The vehicle rolled through a cable fence and struck a pole, causing about $2,000 damage.
The Mustang’s only damage was a flattened front tire.
State law says policing agencies must have reasonable and necessary reasons to break traffic laws, Reagan said.
“If it’s not reasonable and it’s not necessary, we’re held to the same standards the general public is held to,” Reagan said. “I want to assure the public that this is not business as usual.”
Deputy Police Chief Al Odenthal and Reagan said city police appear to have reacted correctly to the deputies’ chase.
“Every indication was that they responded appropriately to assist another agency,” Odenthal said.
Odenthal said the department does not question the actions of the officer whose car was damaged by the pole.
“If it were outwardly negligent or reckless we would take a much harder look at it,” he said.
Brooke Bolin, a manager at Anthony’s, arrived at the restaurant about 4:30 a.m. in response to the false alarm. He saw the Mustang and several patrol cars and asked police if their presence was related to the alarm.
The officer responded that it was a separate incident, saying, ” ‘No big deal, we’ve got this handled’ or something around those lines,” Bolin said.
“There didn’t appear to be any other people around but the police,” Bolin said.
The incident is being investigated by a sheriff’s lieutenant and will be turned over to the sheriff’s Office of Professional Standards, Reagan said.
County Sheriff Mark Sterk, who could not be reached for comment, will make the final decision about any disciplinary action.
Spokane police aren’t angry at the deputies, said Lt. Dean Sprague, acting this week as a department spokesman.
“They’re the ones who have to answer for it,” Sprague said. “… They were goofing around. You just kind of go, ‘Come on, guys.’ “