March 19, 2009 in City

In Olsen case, responsibility lies with prosecutor

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Sure, the jury blew the Jay Olsen verdict.

Like all of you, I’m enraged that a boozed-up, off-duty cop shot Shonto Pete in the head and got away with it.

But as long as we’re playing the Olsen Acquittal Blame Game, let’s start at the right place:

Larry Steinmetz.

Like a coach in a Super Bowl, this was the deputy prosecutor’s Big Moment to win or lose.

And now, when it’s too late to do anything about it, we’re beginning to learn why the battle was lost.

Steinmetz’s decision to not bring Michael R. Dale back to court, for example, strikes me as the sort of managerial blunder that could get a coach canned.

Dale would have directly countered the testimony of Marvin D. Tucker, the Spokane Police Department’s dispatch supervisor.

Tucker testified that during a 911 call, Pete told him he stole Olsen’s pickup.

That’s what I’d call a bombshell. Olsen’s claim is that the truck theft was the crime that precipitated a wild chase and the shooting.

“Pete never said that,” Dale told a reporter after the verdict. “I was three feet from him.”

That is what Dale would have testified had Steinmetz brought the man back to the trial.

And that’s how you turn a bombshell into a soggy firecracker.

Dale, after all, was the guy who called 911 after a bleeding and frightened Pete showed up at his door one dark and cold February morning two years ago.

So whom does a jury believe?

A cop crony who has no taped evidence to back his claim?

Or Dale – the Good Samaritan who took Pete into his home and had an eyewitness view of all that happened?

Pete, of course, was acquitted in a separate trial of stealing Olsen’s truck.

Unfortunately, the jury never got to hear that little nugget.

Steinmetz seems like a truly nice guy. I logged a couple of days in court, and I’ve never seen a milder-mannered or softer-spoken prosecutor.

Imagine Mister Rogers as a trial lawyer and you’d have a pretty good idea.

And I’ll give Steinmetz credit for good intentions in not recalling Dale.

“It would have been very, very difficult for him to get back over here,” he said in Karen Dorn Steele’s revelatory front page story Wednesday about the Olsen trial aftermath.

“I didn’t want to put his health in jeopardy.”

Aw, isn’t that sweet?

Good intentions don’t always win court cases, alas.

It’s true that Dale, who lives over on the West Side, is apparently in ill health. But in the aforementioned story, Dale sounded more fired up than Steinmetz.

He told Dorn Steele he would have been glad to make another appearance, because “justice has failed to be done simply because Tucker has lied.”

I seriously wonder whether the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office ever realized how important to the community the Jay Olsen trial was.

The acquittal has spawned the deepest distrust in our Police Department and judicial system that I’ve ever seen.

Olsen’s acquittal was a DISGRACE!

And as a final jab in the eye, we taxpayers must now give Olsen $153,000 in back wages and something called “estimated overtime,” whatever the heck that is.

A lot of people are probably hoping Olsen uses his windfall as “get outta town” money.

Not me. I say he stays put.

In fact, I’d like to see Olsen use his loot as a down payment on his own nightclub.

He could compete with Dempsey’s Brass Rail, the cocktail lounge where Olsen was downing stiff drinks prior to engaging in gunplay.

I even know what he could call his new place.

“Olsen’s Brass Cartridge” – the world’s first gay bar/shooting gallery.

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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