Sergeant testifies in harassment trial
A Spokane police sergeant, who refused a pretrial interview with an attorney for police Detective Jay Mehring, was ordered Wednesday to answer questions in court.
The unusual deposition by Sgt. Dave Overhoff, ordered by Superior Court Judge Michael Price at the request of defense attorney Chris Bugbee, came before a jury was selected in Mehring’s felony harassment trial.
The undercover drug detective was arrested March 30, 2007, and placed on unpaid leave. Mehring had worked at the Spokane Police Department for 12 years before his wife obtained a restraining order against him as part of a contentious divorce.
Mehring was arrested by sheriff’s deputies in the office of police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick after she told him she was placing him on unpaid leave based on a report filed by Overhoff.
Overhoff, also expected to be called as a witness in the trial, testified during the deposition that he had worked and socialized with Mehring, and that the two officers’ wives remained close friends as the Mehrings’ marriage headed to divorce court.
Overhoff testified he was attempting to remain neutral in the divorce when he and Mehring, once friends, had a chance meeting at a private gym March 26.
Overhoff asked Mehring if his marital problems had improved. Mehring replied, “No, it’s not going better. It’s about to get a lot (expletive) worse,” Overhoff said in his written report about the encounter.
Mehring referred to his wife using a vulgar term and said he would burn her and “her house to the ground” and destroy her and “everything she owns,” Bugbee said in court, reading the report.
“Are you sure those are the exact words he said?” the defense attorney asked the sergeant.
“Yes,” Overhoff replied.
Overhoff said he then walked away from his friend at the gym because he had to report to work in about an hour. Once on the job, Overhoff said he called Maj. Bruce Roberts, who ordered him to write a report detailing the encounter. The report triggered a criminal investigation by a sheriff’s detective, culminating with Mehring’s arrest.
Overhoff said he reported Mehring’s conduct to the department’s senior chiefs because “of the tone of his voice and his behavior. He was very angry,” Overhoff testified. “His behavior was not something I’d ever observed before.”
“Did you take him literally – that he was going to burn a house down?” Bugbee asked Overhoff.
“I don’t now,” the sergeant said, “but at that moment I did.”
Bugbee also asked Overhoff if he had ever told fellow officers or friends that he was going to “take Jay down.” Overhoff denied ever making that kind of statement, but he later acknowledged saying, “Jay must be off his meds.”
Overhoff testified he and other officers are mindful of a 3-year-old department policy that requires them to report domestic violence or threats of domestic violence. Officers are afraid of being named in restraining orders that stem from personal domestic relationships, he also testified.
“Officers carry a badge and a gun,” he said, “and if there’s an allegation against you, you lose those, so yes, officers do fear that,” Overhoff said.
After Mehring’s arrest, several other officers contacted Bugbee and said they would be willing to testify that Overhoff was “well-known within the department for exaggeration, pot-stirring and deception.”
None of those officers is now willing to come forward in Mehring’s defense, Bugbee has told the court, because they would be subject to internal affairs investigations ordered by the police chief.
Bugbee asked Overhoff about Kirkpatrick’s “you lie, you die” policy, in which she promises to fire any officer she catches being untruthful. That new “cardinal rule” from the chief has caught the attention of everyone in the department, Overhoff said.
“We didn’t realize the whirlwind storm she was going to bring on the department,” he testified.
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