June 25, 2009 in City

Protesters rally for police accountability

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson photo

Protesters march in front of Spokane City Hall today to voice their concerns for an independent police ombudsman.
(Full-size photo)

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More than 100 protesters gathered in front of Spokane City Hall tonight to rally for police accountability and changes to an oversight process they see as flawed.

Carrying signs that read “stop police abuse” and “end police brutality,” the group circled around the entrance to City Hall on Post Street chanting: “Josh Levy, Otto Zehm, Shonto Pete, not again!”

The rally comes on the heels of the federal indictment of Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson for his role in the death of mentally ill janitor Otto Zehm, and days before the Spokane City Council is set to vote on hiring a police ombudsman.

“We wanted to offer people the opportunity to speak out … to create change in order to have a relationship of trust with city leaders and police department,” said Liz Moore, the director of the Peace and Justice Action League, who along with Shonto Pete and his family organized the rally. About 10 other community based groups joined in.

Josh Levy jumped to his death off the Monroe Street Bride in 2007 after a 20-hour standoff with police. An officer tried to subdue the 28-year-old schizophrenic with a Taser, but only one prong hit, and Levy jumped.

Pete, who was the shot in the head by an off-duty police officer two years ago after a drunken chase through Peaceful Valley, marched with the crowd carrying a sign that read “real reform now.”

A jury found former Officer Jay Olsen innocent in the shooting, and Pete was exonerated of the auto-theft charge related the case. Olsen was allowed to quit his job before facing an internal police review for his alleged misconduct.

“Something needs to change,” Pete said.

The PJALS, Pete and others are pushing on city leaders to change the ombudsman’s duties so that he will have investigative subpoena authority, which at the present he will not.

Pete said he down with Mayor Mary Verner last week, and urged her to also reconsider her choice for police ombudsman. Tim Burns, 55, served as a police officer for 22 years in Los Gatos, Calif., and is currently a neighborhood preservation manager in Visalia, Calif. The City Council is expected to consider Verner’s choice Monday.

“If she wanted (accountability) she shouldn’t have hired another cop,” Pete said.

About an half hour after the rally began, city spokeswoman Marlene Feist sent out a news release and fact sheet of frequently asked questions about the ombudsman post. It clearly says the ombudsman will not have investigative or disciplinary authority over officers.

“The mayor thinks it’s actually better for the police ombudsman to have the authority to observe than it would be to do his or her own investigation,” Moore said. “I don’t feel I don’t understand her reasoning enough to represent it.”

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