March 12, 2009 in City

Doug Clark: Case is clear as a muddy Peaceful Valley slope

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Let’s get a few things straight.

I don’t care that Jay Olsen is gay. Nor do I give a hoot that Olsen enjoyed spending some of his off-duty cop hours knocking back glasses of Diet Coke with Jack Daniel’s at Dempsey’s, the city’s well-known gay bar.

Heck. I don’t even care if the entire Spokane Police Department is gay and keeps a stash of Judy Garland recordings in the evidence lockers.

Live and let live – that’s what I say.

What I care about is how a so-called peace officer with 16 years of training and practical experience patrolling our streets can make the series of idiotic and potentially lethal decisions that Olsen made one cold February morning two years ago.

This is what I took away from the two days I spent sitting in on Olsen’s assault trial at Spokane County Superior Court.

I had a ringside seat at the best show in town.

Olsen, of course, is being tried for shooting Shonto Pete in the head. That was the violent culmination of a wild chase down a dark embankment at Peaceful Valley.

Gunshots in Peaceful Valley.

Does it get any more ironic than that?

Olsen claims he was justified in letting the lead fly because Pete made some sort of sudden move as if to brandish a weapon.

Pete has always denied doing any such thing.

Olsen fired his “baby Glock” five times, wounding Pete in the back of the head and bagging an unoccupied home.

Not terrible shooting considering the poor light, precarious footing and all the booze Olsen had consumed earlier.

Olsen and Renee Main (the good friend he met at Dempsey’s that night) claim the whole incident started when Pete stole Olsen’s pickup some time after they exited the club.

There’s only one problem with that tidy scenario: Pete was tried and acquitted of stealing Olsen’s truck.

Fortunately for Olsen, however, the jury can’t be informed of Pete’s acquittal.

That’s the beauty of our justice system. Deals like this get hammered out all the time.

We certainly don’t want jurors getting bogged down by the truth.

Nobody, of course, knows how this jury will rule. Jurors are less predictable than hiccups.

Whatever happens, however, I do have one hope. Olsen should find a career that doesn’t involve guns and ammo.

Even he admitted on the stand that drinking alcohol in a bar with a loaded handgun strapped to his waist was a bad idea.

Wow. There’s some self-awareness.

Olsen was a blunder factory on that fated night.

Like not bothering to dial 911 on his cell phone during his pursuit of Pete.

Like not yelling “Stop. I’m a cop!” when he got near Pete.

Like not bothering to dial 911 when he lost track of Pete after the shooting.

Olsen said he was wandering around, worrying about the career implications of what had occurred.

Drinking in a gay bar. Being a gay cop.

Breaking the department’s policy on mixing guns with alcohol …

The investigation of this cluster mess, Olsen ruminated in his emotional whirlwind, would cost him dearly.

Oh, he did use his phone during this phase.

Let’s see …

He made four unanswered calls to Main.

He made a call to his Police Guild representative.

Oh, yeah. And he also tried to call a family friend.

Call me cynical, but I found it quite telling that this aforementioned “family friend” also happens to be a lawyer.

Unfortunately, that little nugget has been determined as prejudicial.

Translation: That, too, is none of the jury’s beeswax.

Justice. You gotta love it.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.


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