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Olsen trial delayed again

Wed., Feb. 27, 2008, midnight

The trial of James “Jay” Olsen, the off-duty Spokane cop charged with first-degree assault for shooting a young man in the head during a drunken nighttime chase a year ago, was supposed to start in March after being postponed in December.

But it has been delayed again – this time, until Nov. 17.

The continuance was granted by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark “at defendant’s request,” court papers said. Olsen’s lawyer, Robert Cossey, said he needs more time to prepare because Olsen faces 15 years in prison.

Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz, who is handling the case, “preferred it to go, but he didn’t jump up and down” objecting to the delay, Cossey said. A November trial for Olsen, 44, means the soonest he’ll face a Spokane jury is more than 20 months after he shot Shonto Pete in the head in the early hours of Feb. 26, 2007.

Olsen, who has pleaded innocent, also faces reckless endangerment charges for firing his Glock revolver loaded with hollow-point bullets in the Peaceful Valley neighborhood that night as people slept.

Pete, 28, was tried in October on a second-degree theft charge after Olsen accused Pete of stealing his truck in downtown Spokane in a confrontation after the bars closed. Both men were legally drunk at the time.

Pete refused a prosecutor’s plea bargain for third-degree theft, saying he was innocent. A Spokane jury agreed, acquitting Pete on Oct. 17. Jurors told The Spokesman-Review after their verdict that the state had no evidence Pete was ever in Olsen’s truck.

David Partovi, Pete’s attorney, said in the weeks leading up to Pete’s trial that his client had been charged high and Olsen had been charged low because of favoritism toward police officers by the prosecutor’s office. When Pete was acquitted, Partovi said to the media: “I told you so.”

Asked this week about the delay in Olsen’s trial, in which Pete will testify, Partovi said he’s never heard of a nine-month continuance. “That’s unheard of. I don’t remember ever getting a continuance that long,” Partovi said.

Olsen claimed Fifth Amendment protection during Pete’s trial, refusing to answer any questions about the shooting that started just before 4 a.m. on West Riverside Avenue above Peaceful Valley.

During the trial, Partovi drew a picture for the jury of differences in the treatment of Pete and Olsen.

Under Partovi’s cross-examination, Olsen said he made two calls that night – to his police guild representative and his lawyer – and didn’t call 911 or police dispatch during his confrontation with Pete.

Olsen was given his Miranda warnings Feb. 26 and interviewed two days later with his lawyer present. Pete was interviewed in the intensive care unit of Sacred Heart Medical Center three hours after he’d been shot, with no lawyer by his side.

In his testimony, Pete said he was surprised detectives asked so many questions at the hospital about Olsen’s truck because he assumed they were there to investigate who had shot him. Pete said he wasn’t told until the end of two police interviews that the man who shot him was a police officer.

“I said, ‘You guys are looking after him – that’s why you’re trying to get me to say something,’ ” Pete told the jury.

On Feb. 4, the Spokane City Council voted unanimously not to use city funds to defend Olsen in his trial because he was off duty at the time of the shooting.

After his acquittal, Pete filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Olsen and the city.

Blake Horwitz, the Chicago lawyer representing Pete in the federal lawsuit, has told the newspaper that the city’s liability hasn’t ended just because city officials say Olsen wasn’t acting as a police officer that night.

Olsen is free on $25,000 bond. He is on “unpaid layoff status” from the Spokane Police Department, according to Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

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