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Police adjust to precedent on questioning suspects

Bill Robinson awakens to the smallest noise in the night.

A baseball bat at his bedside gives him a tiny sense of security, but it fails to erase the memory of ski-masked bandits attacking him in his home last Christmas.

“We were really thoroughly violated,” Robinson said. “We were lucky we weren’t killed.”

As the anniversary of the night Robinson and his girlfriend were beaten and tortured approaches, the 56-year-old is horrified that one of the robbers is out of jail despite her confession to the crime.

“I know to be afraid at night,” Robinson said.

Katie Hansen’s admission to the Dec. 25, 2007, home invasion robbery was thrown out by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen. The judge agreed with Hansen’s attorney that the Spokane police lacked sufficient evidence to take the woman and four other people to the police station and then hold them for three hours during questioning.

Police say they were just doing business as usual, but laws governing probable cause have tightened and will change how investigators do their work.

“We did everything like we’ve ever done,” Spokane Police Sgt. Joe Peterson said. “It’s the nature of the way we do business. We know the rules can change after the fact.”

In a July ruling by the Washington Supreme Court – the case was the State of Washington v. Jeremy Grande – the justices determined the smell of marijuana emanating from a car was not sufficient reason to arrest the car’s occupants or search a car. The law is even stricter when it comes to a home.

The July ruling also reinforced previously established laws that the mere association with people involved in a crime is not sufficient cause for arrest.

In the home invasion robbery, police tracked the suspects to a home using a police dog and following footprints in the snow. Authorities were looking for two people, but there were five in the home. Rather than take the suspects outside in the cold and snow to question them, detectives took them to the police station, Peterson said. “We fed them. We brought them sodas,” he said.

“If you have two suspects, it might be okay to bring them both in and make them sweat it out,” said Jeffry Finer, a Center for Justice attorney and former professor of criminal procedure. “If you have a stadium with one guilty person, you can’t take the whole stadium in.”

When the questioning at the police department was over, only two people, Hansen and Dane J. Bowers, were booked into Spokane County Jail for first-degree robbery and two counts of kidnapping. Robinson said Hansen was a former employee of his.

Detectives figured the robbery case was solid, Peterson said. Bowers pleaded guilty to the charges in court. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Bowers and Hansen have since been married.

Hansen’s case was dismissed without prejudice in September, which means police continue to investigate the original charges.

“What they should have done was determine probable cause to arrest them or come back when and if they had that,” said Al Rossi, Hansen’s attorney and a county public defender.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this detective was trying to be accommodating and get them out of the snow,” Rossi said. “This wasn’t one of the cases where the police did stuff wrong to get an unfair advantage.”

And even if the people had gone willingly, “there’s a problem with the cops keeping them at the station for three hours,” Rossi said. “They were detained (without probable cause), and that’s illegal.”

Peterson said, “From now on, we’ll have to adapt. We’ll have to do our interviews in the back of a police car.”

Hansen’s case was filed for appeal earlier this month, according to court records.

“We’re not done yet,” Peterson said. “We’re still going to win.”

Contact Jody Lawrence-Turner at (509) 459-5593 or jodyl@spokesman.com



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