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Malicious prosecution suit grounds for another look

The story that broke back in January 2007 was one of those shockers that made you spit out your morning java and holler …

“No way! Not again!”

For the second time in months another barista flasher had been arrested for allegedly exposing himself at an Airway Heights espresso joint.

The first incident became a huge scandal and for good reason. The flasher was a Spokane County sheriff’s detective – Joseph “Cuppa Joe” Mastel – who unveiled himself at the aptly named On Alert coffee stand.

This time a civilian had been arrested. Douglas J. DiBiasi, 48, was hauled off to jail for allegedly exposing himself to three female Starbucks workers.

“In addition to the three employees who witnessed the man, his actions were captured on store videotape,” claimed Sgt. Dave Reagan in the official Sheriff’s Office press release he put out to the media.

It all sounded so open and shut.

As time passed, however, the case against DiBiasi proved to be anything but the slam-dunk Reagan made it out to be.

All charges against DiBiasi were dropped in June 2007.

He had passed a polygraph test. Plus the investigation revealed enough discrepancies to make Deputy Prosecutor Brian O’Brien tell a reporter “my case didn’t look the same, in any manner, than it did when it came into the office.”

Want to guess what happened next?

That’s right. DiBiasi filed a lawsuit claiming malicious prosecution against Starbucks and false arrest and defamation against Spokane County. The trial, barring a settlement, etc., is pegged to begin in U.S. District Court in Spokane on Nov. 16 before Judge Lonnie Suko.

I’m hoping it takes place. I want to know more about what did or did not take place at that Starbucks on Jan. 27, 2007.

This is hardly the venue to hash out all the “he says/they say” elements.

Basically, however, Richard Wall, DiBiasi’s attorney, told me his case is based on proving that a Starbucks employee falsely accused his client of exposing himself at the drive-through. In addition, he said, a deputy did not have probable cause to believe DiBiasi had committed the offenses as charged.

I’d love to also hear what the attorneys representing Starbucks and Spokane County have to say. I left messages, and I hope they will call me back.

It’s telling to me that the criminal case was tossed. Plus there never was any videotape evidence that showed DiBiasi exposing himself, Wall said.

“That’s quite a change in what was initially put out there,” he added.

According to Wall, DiBiasi suffers from an obsessive- compulsive disorder. This causes him to engage in involuntary repetitive actions “and makes him a difficult customer to deal with.”

So were these “repetitive actions” misconstrued? Was something more sinister going on? These are just two of the questions I’d like to see answered.

Not that I’m suffering from any editorial remorse, mind you. But I did take a certain amount of columnist liberty when the news of DiBiasi’s arrest broke.

“The charges aren’t felonies,” I wrote on Jan. 30, 2007. “They are misdewieners.”

“Pretty funny,” agreed Wall. “If you’re not Mr. DiBiasi.”

Point taken, counselor.

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


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