May 2, 2009 in City
Report clears dispatcher in Pete shooting
An internal investigation has cleared a Spokane police dispatcher of wrongdoing after questions arose over the truthfulness of his testimony in the acquittal of an off-duty officer who shot a fleeing man in the head.
The report released Friday backs dispatch supervisor Marvin D. Tucker’s claim that Shonto Pete admitted during a 911 call to having been inside then off-duty Spokane police officer Jay Olsen’s truck on Feb. 26, 2007, prior to the confrontation that led to his shooting. A tape of that conversation was erased without any copies being made despite requests for it being filed by detectives investigatng Pete’s shooting.
But while the report concluded Tucker’s comments were truthful, it recommends another investigation into his failure to note the conversation with Pete in the dispatch call log, a policy violation. A fellow dispatcher interviewed by internal affairs called Tucker “notoriously bad” about entering such information, according to the report.
“Tucker’s exclusion of this information does not appear to be purposeful; rather it is a mistake on his part. An egregious mistake, but a mistake never the less,” according to the report written by Spokane police Maj. Scott Stephens. “… Mr. Tucker should and will be held accountable for any performance failures that occurred.”
That investigation should be complete within the next few weeks, said city spokeswoman Marlene Feist.
The Police Department is also adjusting its request form for 911 calls and is requiring dispatchers to be interviewed if they handle calls for officer-related shootings, according to the report.
But the report shows Tucker’s testimony, which contradicted a prosecution witness, mattered little to the 12 jurors who acquitted Olsen of first-degree assault and reckless endangerment March 13 after a trial in Spokane County Superior Court. Those jurors told a case investigator after the verdict that they believed Olsen when he said he’d been afraid to talk to police because he’d been drinking at a bar popular with homosexuals.
They focused on the seconds before the shooting and put little stock in Tucker’s testimony, according to the report.
“(Olsen’s) acquittal can be attributed more to a successful aggressive defense by his attorney rather than testimony provided by Mr. Tucker,” according to the report.
The March 13 acquittal of Olsen came after a trial that centered on a drunken confrontation between Olsen and Pete in the early hours of Feb. 26, 2007. Olsen resigned from the Police Department April 13 rather than be fired.
The jury foreman refused to talk with Stephens because the investigation’s results would be made public, citing an agreement between the 12 not to talk to the media, but an investigator who talked to the jury after the verdict relayed his conversation to Stephens for the investigation.
Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz told Stephens that while he believed Tucker’s testimony, he questioned why it wasn’t available for Pete’s trial. Pete was accused by Olsen of trying to steal his truck, a charge that Pete was acquitted of at a trial in October 2007, in part because there was no corroborating evidence to support Olsen’s allegation.
But in his report, Stephens says there’s plenty of evidence to support Tucker’s testimony about the phone call and points to a call log entered 14 minutes after the incident began that said Pete stole the truck.
Michael R. Dale and Carol A. Blackburn, the former Peaceful Valley couple who let Pete use their phone after the shooting and said the conversation never happened, didn’t hold much sway in the investigation.
Stephens said they may not have heard the entire conversation; Steinmetz said he didn’t want to recall Dale as a witness because he displayed “what appeared to be a very anti-police bias” and didn’t seem credible, according to the report.
What did sway Stephens were witnesses who said they’d heard Tucker talk about his conversation with Pete on separate occasions that occurred more than a year apart.
One dispatcher said she was sitting next to Tucker when the conversation with Pete occurred and heard him something similar to “You were just walking down the street when someone in a truck shot you. That’s not the way things normally happen. What really happened?” according to the report.
Tucker then told her and other dispatchers that Pete had admitted to being inside Olsen’s truck, according to the report.
Another police employee told investigators after the trial that he’d heard Tucker talk about the call with Pete just weeks after the shooting while at a police academy luncheon.
“He assumed at that time that Tucker must have shared that information with investigators because of the casual manner in which he was discussing it,” the report reads.
The investigation shows Steinmetz and Spokane County sheriff’s Detective Mike Ricketts, the lead investigator, learned of Tucker’s conversation with Pete in November 2008 from Olsen’s lawyer, Rob Cossey.
Cossey first heard of the conversation days earlier from a police officer who claimed “it was common knowledge that this conversation had occurred.”
But the call was not included in responses to two records requests by police detectives for dispatch calls related to the incident.
Tucker told an investigator that “had he been the dispatch employee who had received the request he would have known to include the 911 transfer call.”
But Tucker did receive the request, the report shows, and admitted he forgot to include his conversation with Pete.
“Tucker described how he has beaten himself up over this part of the incident and expressed regret that the information had not been retained,” the report reads. “… Tucker readily admitted that he had made some mistakes in his handling of this incident and that he was willing to own up to them.”
Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.