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Typo leads deputies to ransack wrong home

Sorry, wrong number.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich confirmed Tuesday that his officers searched the wrong house last week when a detective got one digit of a telephone number wrong.

Detective Tim Hines tracked down a telephone number associated with obscene calls to 20 or more female students at Whitworth College. But he wrote it down wrong.

That mistake led Hines and other officers to an innocent man’s house on West Point Road in Spokane, miles from the real suspect’s home in Spokane Valley.

Armed with a District Court search warrant based on the mistaken information, the officers seized computers, CDs, floppy disks, VHS tapes and other items last Wednesday from a bewildered 67-year-old man and his wife.

“They went through my wallet, they went through my checkbook, they went through all of my bills,” said the irate man, who asked not to be identified. “They dumped my drawers out. They dumped (stuff) everywhere and then they said, ‘We don’t have to clean it up.’ “

Officers even took “The Lion King” and “Snow White” videos from the bedroom in which the couple’s granddaughter stays when she comes to visit, the homeowner told The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday night.

“I’m here to tell you, this was a rotten deal,” the man said. “I’m very upset right now.”

He declined to say whether he plans to sue the Sheriff’s Office but noted he has an attorney.

“I’m not going to be treated like this and dragged around,” he said.

By the time Hines realized his mistake Monday, the real suspect had moved.

Sheriff’s Capt. Bruce Mathews said detectives are now looking for a 40-year-old man who cobbled aliases from portions of his real name. The suspect has a “limited” local criminal history and some “from out of the area,” according to Mathews.

“Now he has escaped because of their inability to do their jobs properly,” said the man who was wrongly suspected.

“It’s like that guy throwing himself out in front of the espresso-stand girl,” he said, referring to a sheriff’s deputy who was recently fired for exposing himself to a barista.

In response to a request Sept. 29 for comment, Sgt. Dave Reagan said in an e-mail Monday that “Detective Hines does not do interviews regarding his active investigations.”

The falsely accused man said he was humiliated in front of his neighbors when a half-dozen sheriff’s vehicles converged on his home, and Hines told officers – after taking pictures outside – “Now let’s go inside and get some porn.”

Perhaps worse, he said, Hines played recordings of the obscene calls and his wife had to listen to “this filthy stuff.” According to court documents, the obscene caller made lewd suggestions while describing child pornography he said he was watching.

The West Point Road resident said Hines argued with his wife when she told him the voice on the recording wasn’t that of the man to whom she had been married for 37 years.

When he put his arm around his wife as she cried, the man said, Hines challenged him: “What are you doing?”

The man said Hines told him he could keep the story out of the newspaper if the man would confess. Three days later, the homeowner said, his wife called him at a Promise Keepers meeting to tell him the newspaper had published a story about the search.

“I feel really used and abused, and I’ve done nothing to bring this on,” he said.

Mathews said Hines realized his mistake Monday when he called a telephone company to check the accuracy of the phone number on which he based the search.

Although there were no more obscene calls to Whitworth students from the time of the search through Friday, the calls resumed. Some were received as recently as Monday, Mathews said.

He said Hines realized about 3 p.m. Monday that “we had gone to the wrong house; we had accused the wrong person.” Hines called the innocent homeowner and arranged a visit an hour later that included Mathews and Sgt. Jim Goodwin.

“We drove over to the house on West Point with our hats in our hands and ate as much crow as they would allow,” Mathews said.

Knezovich said he thought the homeowner was “more concerned about us making sure that we catch the right person than anything else.”

The falsely accused man said he asked the officers to issue a public “retraction” when they caught the right man, but he was in no mood Monday to accept their apology.

“It’s like the gang that can’t do it right,” he said. “They shoot themselves in the foot and then they all come to make peace. … What would you do if somebody came to your door and ripped your whole house apart, turned everything upside down and said you are a porno freak?”

As for using a computer to view child pornography, the man said he “can’t even set a digital clock.”

Knezovich said he considers it unlikely that Hines will be disciplined.

“I could see it if it was a blatant lack of diligence,” the sheriff said. “But sometimes things like that happen. A number can get transposed.”

Information in search warrant applications is supposed to be double-checked, but Knezovich said he now plans to implement a more structured system for double-checking facts.

He said he considers Hines, a veteran officer, one of the least likely detectives to make such a mistake. Ordinarily Hines is “very diligent … very methodical,” Knezovich said.

“If he’s the best, we’re in big trouble,” the man on West Point Road scoffed.



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