March 7, 2008 in City

Firefighter says he can prove innocence

By The Spokesman-Review

At issue

Gag orders

Gag orders are judicial rulings barring public disclosure or discussion of information related to a case. They’re common in child pornography cases to protect the identity of any victims.

Lt. Todd Chism’s attorneys want the gag order on his case lifted “because we would like to reveal what we found,” Susan Troppman said. A hearing on the matter is scheduled next week.

A month after arresting a Spokane firefighter on evidence a judge called “too slim” to hold him in jail, the Washington State Patrol hasn’t offered proof that Lt. Todd Chism is guilty of buying child pornography.

The Spokane City Attorney’s Office hasn’t released a city-owned computer that investigators want to see, and the Spokane County prosecutor’s office hasn’t filed formal charges.

Chism, meanwhile, says he has information that would clear his name but is prevented by a gag order from making that public. The 41-year-old veteran firefighter remains on paid administrative leave from the Spokane Fire Department at a cost of about $1,593 a week.

WSP officials say it’s standard not to release information during an investigation. They say the Fire Department computer may contain evidence pertinent to the case. Incoming City Attorney Pat Dalton did not return a phone message asking why that computer hasn’t been released to investigators.

“Our No. 1 quest is to get all the facts,” said Lt. Chris Gundermann, of the WSP’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force.

He added there’s a lot of information about the case that hasn’t been made public. “We are doing the best we can to get to the bottom of this,” Gundermann said.

Investigators seized two computers from Chism’s Nine Mile Falls home in late January. His attorneys, Susan Troppman and Carl Oreskovich, obtained mirror copies of the computers’ hard drives and have had them examined by a forensic specialist.

“We can’t discuss what was found on my computer until the protective order is lifted. And we look forward to revealing that information,” Chism said in a phone interview this week. “The truth will come out.”

Such gag orders are common in child pornography cases to protect the identity of any young victims, his attorneys said. “We filed a motion on Tuesday to get relief from the (gag) order because we would like to reveal what we found,” Troppman said. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for next week in Stevens County Superior Court.

Chism was arrested Jan. 29 by the WSP task force. Because of his public position, news of his arrest was reported by television and the newspaper. A Spokane judge ruled the next day there wasn’t enough probable cause to hold Chism in jail.

According to WSP, the investigation began last June when WSP received a tip about child pornography being downloaded to an account that had been established using Chism’s Bank of America credit card number and home address.

But the account was under the name “Mr. Nicole Chism,” with a fake birthdate. Nicole is Chism’s wife. The couple had previously reported fraud four times on that account.

On a Web site maintained by Nicole Chism – she calls it “Todd Chism: The Truth” – friends and relatives have expressed outrage, saying they don’t believe the allegations. The postings chastise WSP for a slow investigation and contend the agency simply doesn’t want to admit it messed up.

WSP is aware of Nicole Chism’s Web site, Gundermann said. But “even if they’ve found his home computers are clear, it doesn’t mean he’s innocent.”

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