After taking a second look at possible criminal charges against former Spokane County Sheriff’s Sgt. Pete Bunch, city officials re-affirmed their decision today not to charge him for a confrontation he had with officers on Feb. 6 near Ferris High School.
City Attorney Howard Delaney reviewed the case after City Prosecutor Jim Bledsoe earlier chose not to charge Bunch despite other law enforcement officials – including Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich – believing the city had enough evidence to charge Bunch with resisting arrest and obstruction of justice.
The case became further complicated when Bledsoe was quoted by Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Rose as saying that his job is to go after criminals and not law enforcement officers demonstrating a temporary lapse in judgment.
“Based on the totality of circumstances as presented, Prosecutor Jim Bledsoe did not abuse his prosecutorial discretion,” Delaney said in a city news release. “Barring some future criminal conduct by Mr. Bunch, the city will not prosecute this case.”
The case began Feb. 6 when officers responded to a woman’s call about a suspected prowler in her yard near Ferris High School. When the officers arrived, they encountered a hooded man who refused to comply with their orders to show his hand.
The suspect, later identified as Bunch, exhibited several odd behaviors – such as reaching over and packing a snow ball – that made the officers fear for their safety, according to department files.
After a review of the case, Knezovich was prepared to fire Bunch – who had a long history of discipline during his 31 years at the sheriff’s office – but he chose to quit instead.
As for the criminal charges, Delaney said in the news release that he found some factual inconsistencies that could have lead to “plausible defense arguments” regarding the legal authority the officers had to order Bunch to submit to a weapons search.
Essentially, the defense would likely argue that officers didn’t have a clear right to stop Bunch or frisk him for a possible weapon. An appeal based on these legal issues would undoubtedly follow, Delaney said.
“The constitutional issues presented make these types of cases difficult to win cleanly, without the probability of a year or more of defense appeals,” Delaney said. “Our spartanly funded Prosecutors Office has a fixed amount of resources and must make tough decisions every day about where they will invest scarce prosecution assets.”
City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said earlier this week that Delaney would also do an internal probe into the comments attributed to Bledsoe that appeared that he gave preferential treatment to a law enforcement officer.
“Upon reconsideration of the conversation, the Prosecutor acknowledged to me that part of his conversations with Lt. Rose certainly were interpreted differently than he intended,” Delaney said in the release.
“In the Rose conversation, Bledsoe believed he was attempting to express empathy or the tough situation the law enforcement agencies were experiencing, while at the same time relaying the difficulties of prosecuting Bunch for his actions, especially considering (Bunch’s) long career in law enforcement, lack of a criminal record, and the limited prosecution resources available.”
Delaney blamed the situation on “tone” but said Bledsoe took responsibility for the “communication breakdown” and regretted any implication that Rose’s report was inaccurate.
“At the end of the day, I believe we have a misunderstanding fueled by a poor choice of communication style,” Delaney added in the release.