The estranged wife of Spokane police Detective Jay Mehring was as shocked as anyone last year when her husband of 18 years was arrested on a felony harassment charge and placed on unpaid leave, a Superior Court jury was told Thursday.
Lisa Mehring called his attorney, Chris Bugbee, and asked, “What’s going on?” Bugbee told the jury in opening statements. She made similar calls to the prosecutor and her marriage counselor, Bugbee said.
The defense attorney told the jury Lisa Mehring wasn’t fearful of her husband and didn’t want him arrested or his job jeopardized in March 2007 but wanted him to finalize financial details of their marriage dissolution.
“Her greatest fear was he was going to hurt himself,” Bugbee said.
Lisa Mehring signed a protection order prepared by her attorney, Bugbee said, “but she didn’t read a word of it.”
Her detective-husband was the victim of the “perfect storm,” targeted because his two former friends and fellow police officers – Sgts. Dave Overhoff and Troy Teigen – sided with Lisa Mehring in the divorce and wrote internal affairs reports, triggering a criminal investigation, Bugbee told the jury.
Before the outset of the trial, the defense attorney unsuccessfully attempted to get the criminal charges dropped on the grounds that his client can’t get a fair trial because supportive fellow officers are fearful of testifying on his behalf because they would then become targets of internal affairs investigations.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindsey opened with a starkly different version.
His opening words to the jury: “I’ll destroy you. I’ll burn the house down with you in it.”
The prosecutor said Mehring terrified his wife with those words in March 2007 after she discovered a $20,000 discrepancy and froze a financial account shared by the couple, five months into their messy divorce.
She filed for divorce in November 2006 and wanted out of the relationship, Lindsey said in his opening statement. “This is the case of a woman who sought freedom,” he said.
Jay Mehring, assigned undercover work with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Spokane Regional Drug Task Force and a former sniper for the Police Department’s SWAT team, confronted his estranged wife at their son’s high school wrestling match in March 2007.
He demanded she sign legal papers unfreezing the financial account, Lindsey said, referring “to her in a profane manner in front of their son,” the prosecutor said.
Later that day, Lisa Mehring called her longtime friend, Sgt. Overhoff’s wife, telling her Jay Mehring had threatened to “burn down the couple’s house with her in it,” Lindsey said.
Lisa Mehring, a pharmacist and mother of two, also repeated those statements in a phone call to Teigen, the prosecutor said.
“She believed that threat, and she was scared,” he told the jury.
The defense attorney said that his client, like other undercover detectives, regularly use expletive-salted language that is accepted street slang in the drug world.
Drug detectives also might be afraid of personally “getting burned” while working undercover, but those are metaphors that don’t mean physical harm, Bugbee said.
The defense attorney said from a lineup of witnesses, set to take the stand when the trial resumes on Monday, there will be only one person – Overhoff – who will testify that he heard Jay Mehring make the threat about “burning down the house.”
“He’s got some credibility issues,” Bugbee said. “Is his word good enough?”