November 14, 2009 in City

Police sergeant avoids prosecution

Troopers cited him with DUI in crash; victim feels ‘misled’
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Thoma Enrolling in a deferred prosecution program
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Read more on this story at the Sirens and Gavels blog.

A Spokane police sergeant will avoid criminal prosecution for a drunken hit-and-run crash if he stays out of trouble for five years.

Bradley N. Thoma, 44, was cited for drunken driving when he rear-ended a Mead woman’s truck in September, then drove away without stopping. A judge amended the charges Friday to include one count of misdemeanor leaving the scene of an accident, then dismissed that charge after being presented with a letter from the victim that said she’d been paid for the damage to her vehicle and was “not interested in (pursuing) Mr. Thoma any further.”

The judge also allowed Thoma to enroll in a five-year deferred prosecution program that will result in the drunken driving charge being dismissed if he complies with the requirements.

By asking for the deferred prosecution, Thoma acknowledged he has a severe alcohol problem, said Brian O’Brien, Spokane County deputy prosecutor.

“Quite frankly, most people don’t want to go through deferred prosecution” because of the stringent requirements, O’Brien said. “It isn’t the easy way out.”

The deal, however, left the victim of the hit-and-run accident feeling duped.

Sherry Prickett, 51, said she agreed to sign the letter prepared by the law office of Rob Cossey, who represents Thoma, only because she thought it referred to financial issues surrounding the crash. Thoma already had paid $471 to repair her vehicle and Prickett said she thought she was being asked to sign the letter e-mailed to her just hours before Friday’s court hearing to reflect that she didn’t want to seek more money.

“I do feel misled,” Prickett said. “If I had known it was releasing him of the hit-and-run charge I would never have signed.”

After reviewing the letter, Judge Douglas Robinson, a visiting judge from Whitman County, agreed to the deferred prosecution agreement and dropped the hit-and-run charge in Spokane County District Court on Friday morning.

“I was under the impression that the victim had been compensated and they were OK with that and that was the end of it,” Robinson said after the hearing. He said he had “no idea” Thoma was a police sergeant.

Cossey did not return a phone call seeking comment about Prickett’s letter.

Under the deferred prosecution agreement, Thoma – whose blood-alcohol level was 0.171, more than twice the legal limit for driving – will basically be on probation for five years and be required to complete a rehabilitation program in the first two years. The DUI arrest won’t appear on his record if he completes the program.

Thoma was driving his personal Dodge Ram pickup on Sept. 23 when he struck the back of Prickett’s Ford Ranger near the intersection of Farwell Road and U.S. Highway 2, then drove away. Prickett and another driver followed Thoma to the parking lot of a Yoke’s Fresh Market, where Thoma told a state trooper he’d been planning to buy steaks before picking up his daughter from volleyball practice.

Thoma, who troopers said smelled strongly of alcohol, said he’d just golfed at Wandermere Golf Course and “knew he had hit someone’s car and not stopped to give her his information,” according to a report from the Washington State Patrol.

“He talked about how he was probably going to lose his job or at least lose his supervisory position,” according to the report. “He also told me he knew I was just doing my job and he was sorry for putting me in the position of arresting a fellow officer.”

The impact damaged the bumper of Prickett’s truck. She replaced it using a $471 check from Thoma.

Thoma has been with the department since October 1989. He’s been suspended with pay from his $91,141-a-year job pending an internal investigation.

Court documents show Cossey was the first person Thoma tried to contact when troopers took him to the WSP office.

When Thoma couldn’t reach Cossey’s office, he called police Officer Rob Boothe to get the attorney’s private number, according to a report. Cossey had successfully defended Boothe from allegations by two fellow officers that he’d kicked a handcuffed man in the face. Cossey also successfully defended former police Officer Jay Olsen against criminal charges stemming from the shooting of a fleeing man, Shonto Pete.

After promising not to drive, Thoma was released to another Spokane police sergeant who drove him home, according to the WSP report.

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