April 16, 2009 in City

No charges for arrested sergeant

Thomas Clouse Staff writer
 

After taking a second look at possible criminal charges against former Spokane County sheriff’s Sgt. Pete Bunch, city officials affirmed their decision Wednesday against charging him in connection with a confrontation he had with police officers on Feb. 6.

City Attorney Howard Delaney reviewed the case after City Prosecutor Jim Bledsoe decided not to charge Bunch. Other law enforcement officials – including Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich – said they believed city officials had enough evidence to charge Bunch with resisting arrest and obstruction of justice.

As part of an earlier internal affairs investigation, Bledsoe was quoted in an internal document as saying his job was to pursue criminals, “not law enforcement officers demonstrating a temporary lapse in judgment.”

But the prosecutor didn’t abuse his discretion, Delaney said in a city news release. “Barring some future criminal conduct by Mr. Bunch, the city will not prosecute this case,” he said.

The investigation 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 hands.

The man, later identified as Bunch, exhibited odd behavior, such as packing a snowball, which made the officers fear for their safety, according to department files. Bunch, who later said he was looking for his dog in the woman’s yard, didn’t identify himself as a law enforcement officer until after he was arrested.

Knezovich was prepared to fire Bunch, who had a long history of reprimands during his 31 years at the Sheriff’s Office. But Bunch resigned two hours before the sheriff was to terminate him from his $77,000-a-year job.

In affirming the decision not to file criminal charges, Delaney said he found some factual inconsistencies in the reports that could have resulted in “plausible defense arguments” regarding the legal authority the officers used to order Bunch to submit to a weapons search.

“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 in the release. “Our spartanly-funded prosecutor’s office has a fixed amount of resources and must make tough decisions every day about where they will invest scarce prosecution assets.”

Knezovich said he asked Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Brian O’Brien review the case. O’Brien determined city officials had enough evidence to charge Bunch, Knezovich said.

The sheriff said he was frustrated that Bledsoe didn’t initially pursue the case.

“There is this perception that law enforcement was trying to take care of its own. That could not be further from the truth,” Knezovich said. “We did our jobs. We upheld our commitment to this community.”

In his March 9 internal affairs report, sheriff’s Lt. Bill Rose quoted Bledsoe as saying that he’d taken Bunch’s job into account when deciding not to charge him.

Bledsoe “told me that he did not want to ‘grind on the guy’ for his use of bad judgment,” Rose wrote in his notes from the March 9 interview. Bledsoe “told me he wished Sgt. Bunch well.”

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said last week that Bledsoe questioned the accuracy of Rose’s report.

On Wednesday, City Attorney Delaney backed away from that contention.

“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 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.

Thomas Clouse can be reached at tomc@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5495.

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