September 10, 2009 in City

Jury acquits Spokane officer

Boothe was charged with assault
By The Spokesman-Review
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Boothe
(Full-size photo)

A decorated, 15-year veteran of the Spokane Police Department was acquitted by a jury of charges that he kicked a handcuffed suspect in the face.

But Officer Rob Boothe, one of four master firearms instructors in the state, still faces an internal investigation.

Police officers in the courtroom Thursday, outnumbering the jury four to one, withheld their applause until the six-person jury left the courtroom. Boothe, a martial arts expert who is the department’s lead use-of-force instructor, said he had no comment following the verdict. Instead, he wept as he hugged his wife and gathered congratulations from his supporters.

Earlier in the day, Boothe testified that he used strong language with suspect John Luna, 23, who led several officers on a car chase and foot pursuit on Sept. 5, 2008, that ended in the backyard of 3204 W. Hoffman Ave.

Boothe described how he caught Luna, tackled him over a fence and brought him into custody. Boothe said he shifted his feet as he was standing near Luna’s head but he never kicked him, contradicting testimony from Officers Erin Blessing and Shaidon Storch.

“I did not commit assault against Mr. Luna,” Boothe said.

The special prosecutor hired by the city for the case, Dana Kelley, told the jury during his closing arguments that Boothe’s version of events didn’t match the evidence in the case or the testimony of Storch and Blessing. Both said they clearly saw Boothe kick Luna.

“One question you have to ask,” Kelley told the jury, “is why would (Storch and Blessing) come forward if they weren’t telling the truth. Send a clear message to law enforcement that regardless if it is a 23-year-old car thief or you or me, that this type of thuggish behavior will not be tolerated.”

Defense attorney Rob Cossey continually hinted at a possible motive for the officers’ testimony. Boothe testified that he trained both Blessing and Storch; as his instructor, Boothe had been critical of Storch’s performance.

“Police work is a very dangerous profession. I can be a hard trainer. They have to be physically ready for it and mentally ready for it,” Boothe testified. “Some people have trouble being told what to do.”

Cossey told the jury they didn’t have to know all the motivations behind the two officers’ testimony.

“You have enough evidence to make a fair and just decision. Officer Boothe did not kick John Luna,” Cossey said. “Please don’t ruin this man’s career.”

Boothe has been on paid administrative leave since the incident.

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