April 20, 2009 in City, News
Chief releases disciplinary details
In response to criticism over two recent cases of alleged misconduct by law enforcement, Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick on Monday released details of Spokane police disciplinary cases since she joined the department in September 2006.
Criminal charges were filed in four cases; none resulted in criminal convictions.
The admission came at the city’s Public Safety Committee meeting after City Councilman Bob Apple questioned the internal investigation process used by the department and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office in the cases of sheriff’s Sgt. Pete Bunch and police Officer Jay Olsen, who each resigned before being fired.
The cases fueled a discussion between Apple, Kirkpatrick, council President Joe Shogan and City Administrator Ted Danek. Danek and Kirkpatrick took offense at what they called a public misperception that police officers can get away with anything; they blamed the media and Apple for contributing to it.
“We are accountable. We are making tough disciplinary decisions,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m not going to have reckless talk of this agency. I’m not going to have it.”
A jury acquitted Olsen of reckless endangerment and first-degree assault charges. No charges were filed against Bunch after a woman reported him prowling in her yard and city police said he resisted arrest.
Danek said he finds it “personally distressing” that people think the city condones criminal acts by police. He staunchly defended the decisions by City Prosecutor Jim Bledsoe and City Attorney Howard Delaney not to file charges against Bunch.
An internal affairs report quoted Bledsoe as saying his job was to pursue criminals, “not law enforcement officers demonstrating a temporary lapse in judgment.”
But Bledsoe has said “that what he said was not what he intended,” Danek said Monday.
Shogan called the outrage surrounding the cases a “public relations” problem.
“In the public eye, it’s just a big conspiracy and everything is focused on the police department,” Shogan said.
Saying “the prosecutors do not work for me,” Kirkpatrick read a list of employees who have been disciplined, fired or resigned in lieu of firing.
But Apple said that doesn’t change his belief that there’s a problem, noting that of the 11 cases, none resulted in criminal convictions.
“There’s something else and we need to get to the bottom of it, because the public is irate,” Apple said.
The City Council plans to invite Kirkpatrick to present the same information to council members.
“I don’t think the problem’s with the police department,” Shogan said. But, he added, “I’m aware of perceptions, and perceptions become reality.”
The following is a list of the incidents involving Spokane police that Kirkpatrick detailed Monday, not including the Olsen case:
•Detective Jeff Barrington was arrested for drunken driving in an unmarked police car by a Washington State Patrol trooper in May 2007. The charge was dropped by the Spokane County prosecutor’s office, and Barrington received a letter of reprimand.
•Officer Rob Boothe is accused by two officers of kicking a handcuffed suspect in the face in September 2008. A police investigation resulted in a fourth-degree assault charge that’s pending in Spokane Municipal Court. An internal affairs investigation will begin after the charge is resolved.
•Detective Jerry Hensley was accused by eight officers of using excessive force when he kicked a restrained man in the chest in January 2004. He was fired, then rehired in 2005 in a deal hatched with then-Police Chief Roger Bragdon. A grand jury was convened, and a U.S attorney said “there was strong evidence to support probable cause but no charges would be filed,” Kirkpatrick said.
•Officer John Elam rear-ended a vehicle, triggering a four-car collision, while alone in a patrol car for the first time in November 2006. Police determined he lied when he said he’d worn his seat belt, and he was fired in February 2007.
•David Freitag rented a basement room in his home to a registered sex offender who was arrested in July 2006 by the FBI, who found 1,000 child pornography images on his computer. Freitag, a corporal and 15-year-veteran, was fired in November 2006 after an internal investigation. The sex offender, Thomas R. Herman, was sentenced to 10 years in prison; an FBI investigation resulted in no charges against Freitag.
•Jennifer Nist, a 16-year veteran, was accused of insubordination and chose to be fired from her job in the records department about three weeks ago instead of resigning following an internal investigation.
•Jay Mehring was reported by fellow officers to have made death threats against his estranged wife and was arrested in March 2007. A jury acquitted him of a felony harassment charge in October 2008. He retained his job at the advice of the city attorney’s office.
•Jennifer Montgomery was accused of insubordination at her job in the records division. She resigned before being fired.
•Len Ward, a supervisor in the records division, was investigated for lying and resigned before being fired. Dates were not available.
•Senior Police Officer Jason Uberuaga was accused of rape in October 2007 while off-duty outside a bar. The Spokane County prosecutor’s office declined to press charges the following month. Uberuaga was fired following an internal affairs investigation but reinstated in February at the direction of an arbitrator.
Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.