A Spokane police officer accused of kicking a handcuffed suspect in the face last week should face a misdemeanor assault charge, investigators have concluded.
Detectives are recommending the fourth-degree assault charge against veteran Officer Robert M. Boothe in connection with the Sept. 5 confrontation, according to the police investigation, which was released Friday evening. Boothe has denied the allegation, according to police reports.
John Luna, 22, a suspected car thief captured after a lengthy pursuit, was handcuffed and on the ground when he says Boothe kicked him.
Three Spokane officers told investigators they saw Boothe kick Luna while handcuffed. Two of them said they were certain the kick was intentional, according to the reports released Friday. The third said he was not sure if it was deliberate, but heard Boothe tell Luna, “You’re lucky that’s all you got.”
Boothe told detectives that he did not kick Luna, but turned around so he could yell at Luna to shut up and that while doing so his foot came in close proximity to Luna’s head. Many at the scene reported that after he was handcuffed, Luna was loud and complaining that he hadn’t been driving the car.
“It’s absolutely possible I could have made some type of contact,” Boothe told investigators. “Some unintentional, peripheral contact. Incidental, I think, would be the appropriate word.”
But another officer told investigators that Boothe kicked Luna after he already turned around and told the suspect to shut up. It couldn’t have been accident, the officer said.
“I say that because his arms didn’t come up like he was unbalanced or he was going to fall. It was a deliberate movement with his foot,” an officer said, according to the investigation. “I mean he kicked him, his foot went back in place and it was like nothing had happened. There wasn’t an, ‘Oops, I’m sorry’ or ‘… sorry dude.’ I mean there wasn’t anything like that.”
Names of most of the people who gave statements to detectives, including officers who say they witnessed the kick, were redacted in the reports released Friday.
Luna was caught near Hoffman Avenue and Driscoll Boulevard, police said. Boothe’s statement about the incident said he ran after Luna, caught up with him at a fence and grabbed him as they both dropped into the next yard. Boothe said Luna “lashed out and attempted to kick me” but the officer was able to place Luna in a position to cuff him.
Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe described Boothe as “well-respected in the department.”
Booth, 37, joined the department in 1994. Part of his duties include training other officers on defense tactics and with firearms, DeRuwe said. He also is on the SWAT team.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow when a fellow officer is accused of something,” she said.
A memo from Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick that was part of the investigation indicates that earlier in the week there was dissatisfaction within the department about action being taken against Boothe.
Kirkpatrick’s memo said that by Monday she had been told by several sources that officers were “spreading a lot of misinformation and the rumors were getting out of control and that morale was dropping quickly. I was also told that there was some talk among the officers that they would start de-policing.”
DeRuwe said she interpreted Kirkpatrick’s use of the term “de-policing” to mean taking fewer risks to catch suspects.
A 2001 opinion article from U.S. News & World Report defined “de-policing” as when “police overlook a lot of suspicious behavior” and “stop trying to prevent low-level crime and simply react to 911 calls.”
DeRuwe said de-policing is not considered acceptable in the department and that Kirkpatrick responded to combat low morale by addressing the rumors.
Kirkpatrick’s memo says she talked to four shifts of officers on Sept. 8 and 9 and explained that the investigation started after another police officer came forward with his concerns about what he witnessed.
“I explained that the allegation was that the ‘kick’ was done after Luna was in custody and officers had stepped away from Luna to discuss the incident, and there was a moment of time which passed between the arrest and the ‘kick,’ ” Kirkpatrick said in the memo.
Detectives said Luna changed his story several times.
In an interview Wednesday in the Spokane County Jail, Luna pointed to a dime-sized mark on his face and said it was what remained of a bruise that covered half of his jaw.
Detectives who examined photos of Luna’s jaw from Saturday describe a small bruise next to the mark, which the report calls “a nick.” The report said it was unlikely that Boothe could have kicked Luna with much force because of what they describe as Luna’s “minimal injury.”
“It was unclear whether this injury was a broken pimple or actually a small nick to the skin,” the report said.