Spokane police Detective Jay Mehring will go back on the city payroll Monday after a jury acquitted him Friday of a felony harassment charge – threatening to “burn down” his estranged wife’s home.
Lisa Mehring embraced her former husband moments after the 12-member jury returned its unanimous verdict.
“I’m very pleased it’s all over – finally,” said the pharmacist and mother of two. She was an unwilling prosecution witness, threatened with contempt, whose testimony became the backbone of the defense case.
Her ex-husband – who has faced the pending felony charge for 19 months – shook hands with his attorney, Chris Bugbee, then chatted with two rows of detectives and officers from the Spokane Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Washington State Patrol.
No one from the police command staff was present in the courtroom.
“I’m grateful for their verdict,” the 40-year-old career detective said outside the courtroom. Jurors “obviously took the case very seriously.”
Mehring said he’s eager to go back to work for the Police Department. He is a former SWAT team member, sniper and undercover detective assigned to the Drug Enforcement Administration Spokane Regional Drug Task Force.
Spokane Police Guild President Ernie Wuthrich said he wishes the case could have been handled as an “internal inquiry,” and not a criminal case that he said has been “destructive to the morale” of the 300-officer department.
“People were divided into different camps, over who they believed,” Wuthrich said. The guild president said the department’s administration “set this terrible sequence of events into action and caused a whole lot of stress for this detective and his family and some of the rest of us.”
Immediately after the verdict, Wuthrich and Mehring went to the office of Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick to ask for Mehring’s immediate job reinstatement. The chief had the day off, so Wuthrich and guild Vice Presidents Jeff Harvey and Ray Harding met briefly with Assistant Chief Jim Nicks.
“The plan is to bring him back on the payroll next Monday,” Dave Chandler, human resources director for the city, said after the meeting.
Mehring will be on paid administrative leave until an internal affairs investigation by the Police Department is completed, Chandler said. It’s unclear how long that will take. Mehring said he, and many other detectives, remain puzzled as to why the criminal case was launched, claiming he was a “victim of a political agenda” just seven months after Kirkpatrick became police chief. He didn’t take the stand during the trial.
“I feel she came here with a political agenda and has lost sight of reasonableness and fairness,” Mehring told reporters in the courthouse hallway. “Her intent is to be noble,” Mehring said, “but she’s way too far black and white, and you cannot run a 300-person department without discretion and consideration.”
Bugbee said the police chief, who has publicly said she wants to give her own “spankings” to officers who violate department rules, picked the wrong case.
“I don’t think it merited a ‘spanking’ for Officer Mehring at all, and I think that’s what the jury concluded,” the defense attorney said. The chief, he said, “was too hasty” in calling for a criminal investigation.
Reached for comment Friday afternoon, Kirkpatrick said she has “no regrets” about asking the Sheriff’s Office to investigate the case once Spokane police Sgts. Dave Overhoff and Troy Teigen – both longtime friends of Mehring’s – said they had heard he was threatening to “burn down” his estranged wife’s home with her in it.
“Once these complaints came in, we asked the officers to reduce those comments to writing and I handed it off to an outside agency, the Sheriff’s Office,” Kirkpatrick said.
“To say the Police Department pushed this through, I take exception to that,” the chief said.
After sheriff’s Detective Chris Thompson completed his investigation and determined there was probable cause to arrest Mehring, he was summoned to the police chief’s office where he was arrested March 30, 2007.
Kirkpatrick said she is concerned about morale issues caused by the case and will do her part to begin the healing process.
“It was a bad decision to charge this case,” Mehring’s defense attorney said. “Somebody should have taken the time to look at the facts of this case – like the jury finally did – and dismissed the charge before it ever went to trial.”
At one point during the trial, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindsey suggested he didn’t think the case belonged in court.
“You think I wanted to file this stupid case? You’re wrong,” he said during a courtroom exchange with the defense attorney, with the judge and jury gone.
He couldn’t be reached for comment after the jury verdict.