The two Spokane police officers who ordered the deletion of sexually explicit photos of a 16-year old girl from fireman Daniel W. Ross’ camera after his sexual encounter with the girl at a Spokane firehouse in February have been suspended.
The incident sparked outrage from Spokane women’s groups and criticism from Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession, who in March called the decision to delete the photographs “not the best investigative practices by our detectives.”
The Spokane Police Department also will change its policies and retrain its officers, the department said in a news release Monday.
Deputy Chief Bruce Roberts, who headed the internal investigation, has suspended Detective Neil Gallion for two days because he ordered the photos of the 16-year-old to be deleted after the Feb. 10 incident at Fire Station 17 in northwest Spokane.
Gallion has been with the Spokane Police Department for 13 years.
“We found nothing to raise questions about the detective’s motives, but established protocols were not followed and the public trust was compromised,” Roberts said in a statement.
Roberts also suspended Sgt. Joe Peterson, a 24-year department veteran, for three days because he was “ultimately accountable” as the on-scene supervisor, the police department said.
Roberts said the discipline of the two officers was mitigated by the fact that both men have exemplary records, many commendations and no previous disciplinary incidents in their files.
“These are good officers who were trying to protect the victim in this case,” Roberts said.
The Spokesman-Review reported on March 3 that the two police detectives were the subject of an internal affairs investigation after they directed Ross to delete the sexually explicit photos. The day before, senior city officials called a news conference after they were told the newspaper had confirmed Ross’ identity and learned of the officers’ role in deleting the photos.
Ross, 35, quit his $63,769-a-year firefighter job on March 8, the day before a departmental disciplinary hearing.
The Feb. 10 incident at the fire station initially was reported in the middle of the night as a rape by the girl’s boyfriend. But police learned the sex was consensual.
Acting Police Chief Jim Nicks said in an interview on March 6 that he immediately called the two detectives to investigate because the incident “involved an on-duty firefighter in a city-owned facility.”
Nicks said the detectives became involved in deleting the images on Feb. 11 in order to prevent their dissemination. He said the detectives left the camera with Ross, but he told them to go back and get it.
“I didn’t know where this was going to go, and I thought we should have that camera,” the chief said in the interview.
By the time they’d retrieved the camera, Ross had replaced the small memory card in his Panasonic digital camera with another one. No one knows what happened to the memory card used to store the digital pictures, including two photos of the disrobed teen wearing the firefighter’s coat, Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said in a press conference on June. 8.
That day, Tucker announced he would not charge Ross or seek destruction of evidence counts against the police detectives. Tucker said pursuing criminal charges against Ross would be a waste of taxpayers’ money because police couldn’t locate the photos.
Roberts, who joined Tucker at the June 8 press conference, said the digital camera’s memory card could have been “easily broken, easily concealed, easily destroyed.”
“We had no idea where it was … or where to look,” Roberts said. The victim told detectives she believes 20 to 30 pictures, including close-ups of her body, were taken by Ross, according to police reports released on June 8.