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‘Upset’ chief blocks records

Sat., April 15, 2006

The Spokane Police Department is withholding public records requested by The Spokesman-Review because acting Police Chief Jim Nicks is angry with the newspaper’s recent coverage of two high-profile cases.

The records were assembled and scheduled to be released this week in compliance with a state Open Records Act request submitted by reporter Karen Dorn Steele. But she was informed Thursday by Police Department spokesman Tom Lee that the records wouldn’t be released.

When asked the reason, the police spokesman said Nicks “is upset” with the newspaper’s coverage of Otto Zehm, who died last month after being Tasered by police, and former firefighter Daniel Ross, whose digital photos of on-duty sex with a teenage girl were ordered deleted by police detectives.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor this week ordered the city to release its Fire Department misconduct investigation that prompted Ross to resign his $64,000-a-year job.

Nicks declined a request, through the department’s spokesman, to be interviewed on Friday.

Attorneys for the newspaper, Duane Swinton and Tracy LeRoy, are preparing a public records lawsuit, which will be filed Monday if the city doesn’t produce the records.

“The actions of the police department, in denying access to the records which have been assembled, constitute a gross violation of the (state’s) Public Records Act,” Swinton said in a letter delivered Friday afternoon to Assistant City Attorney Pat Dalton.

Unless the documents are produced, the newspaper will file suit ordering the Police Department to “show cause” why the records have not been released and requesting attorneys fees and daily penalties for the Police Department’s “arbitrary and capricious action in refusing to turn over these public records for inspection.”

The records requested by the newspaper include the department’s policy and procedures manual, the department’s organizational chart, and Internal Affairs reports from 2001 to 2005.

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