April 13, 2009 in City

Jay Olsen resigns from Spokane Police Department

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Read the resignation letter submitted by Spokane Police Officer James “Jay” Olsen by clicking on the documents tab above the headline.

Suspended Spokane Police Officer Jay Olsen, acquitted by a jury last month for shooting a man in the head during a drunken off-duty chase through Peaceful Valley two years ago, resigned Monday.

The resignation came shortly before Olsen was to meet with Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick to discuss her decision to fire him from the force for various departmental violations stemming from the twilight shooting of Shonto Pete, including conduct unbecoming an officer and making an untruthful statement during a criminal investigation. The department advised Olsen of its intent to terminate him a week ago and Olsen chose to resign instead of being fired.

“This is not a surprise,” Kirkpatrick said.

In his letter of resignation, Olsen said it became clear to him that “some of my actions that night did not reflect well on either myself or the Spokane Police Department.”

On Feb. 26, 2007, after Olsen left a downtown Spokane bar, he chased Pete in the area of Riverside Avenue, between Cedar and Maple streets. Olsen fired his personal, off-duty firearm, hitting Pete in the back of the head. In his resignation, Olsen says the force he “used that night was justified.”

A Spokane jury acquitted Olsen of first-degree assault and reckless endangerment for shooting Pete, triggering a public outcry over the exclusion of some evidence from jurors. Olsen claimed he’d caught Pete trying to steal his truck. Pete, who was acquitted of auto theft charges during a trial last year, claimed he simply had asked Olsen for a ride home on a cold winter night. Jurors in the Olsen case never were told that Pete had been acquitted.

Olsen’s attorney, Rob Cossey, had predicted that his client was unlikely to get his job back because he “committed significant violations of department policy,” the night he shot Pete, including getting drunk while carrying a concealed weapon in a bar and failing to call for backup while chasing Pete.

Kirkpatrick said Monday the charge of conduct unbecoming was based on “the evening in its totality,” referring to Olsen’s decisions on the night of the shooting.

Olsen’s avoidance of investigators led to the charge for being untruthful.

“I now realize that the safety of my fellow officers as well as the public should have taken precedence over my personal concerns,” Olsen wrote in his letter. “I am humiliated to have been outed in the manner that I was.”

Olsen was arrested on April 13, 2007, by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for first-degree assault and reckless endangerment. On March 13, a jury acquitted Olsen of those charges, and on March 16, he was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the Internal Affairs investigation.

Kirkpatrick accepted his letter of resignation with the acknowledgement that Olsen resigned in lieu of termination. His resignation terminates any opportunity for appeal, but does not prevent him from getting a job in law enforcement elsewhere, she said.

The resignation also does not affect the back wages city taxpayers will still be on the hook for, totaling about $153,000 for the time Olsen was placed on unpaid layoff status after his arrest in April 2007.

In a related matter, a city investigation into the disappearance of potential evidence in the Olsen case is nearing its conclusion.

City Administrator Ted Danek said Monday that the report is expected soon from the formal inquiry into testimony offered in Olsen’s trial from Marvin D. Tucker, the Spokane Police Department dispatch supervisor who offered surprise testimony that Pete admitted to him during the 911 call on Feb. 26, 2007, that Pete had stolen Olsen’s truck prior to the shooting.

However, the 911 tapes show no such statement from Pete and two people standing next to him during the call, Michael R. Dale and Carol A. Blackburn, said Pete never said he stole Olsen’s truck. Some had speculated that the tapes supposedly containing the admission had mistakenly been erased.

“I know Major (Scott) Stephens was looking into it,” Danek said. Assistant “Chief Nicks said this morning that it is wrapping up. I would expect something shortly on that.”

Kirkpatrick said Monday’s conclusion in the Olsen case is a clear example of law enforcement “stepping up,” and taking responsibility at a time when constituents have voiced frustration over how officials have handled several high-profile cases, including the recent criminal investigation into the actions of Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Pete Bunch, who quit last week just before he was to be fired.

“We’re taking care of ourselves,” Kirkpatrick said.


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