A Spokane police detective cleared of a felony harassment charge by a jury last year is preparing to sue the city.
An attorney representing Detective Jay Mehring filed a $3.5 million claim against the city last week.
Mehring was placed on unpaid leave when he was charged with felony harassment in March 2007 after Spokane police Sgt. Dave Overhoff and Sgt. Troy Teigen reported that they had heard he was threatening to “burn down” his estranged wife’s home with her in it.
Mehring, who has said his words were twisted and taken out of context, was reinstated in October 2008 after he was found not guilty.
Attorney Bob Dunn, who is representing Mehring in the case, said police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s decision to suspend Mehring without pay forced him to sell property and take other steps to support himself.
“They were looking for a scapegoat,” Dunn said, adding that Kirkpatrick, who was hired in 2006, wanted to “ensure that the rank and file police officers understood there’s a new sheriff in town.”
At the trial, Mehring’s ex-wife, Lisa Mehring, testified that she told detectives that her ex-husband had threatened to “burn everything and destroy me,” but stressed that she never felt he would harm her or their two sons. She also said that she was “being manipulated by the system.”
Mehring’s claim accuses Kirkpatrick and the department of libel, malicious prosecution, deprivation of due process rights and other violations. Attached to Mehring’s claim is a motion filed last year as part of the criminal case that accuses Kirkpatrick of discouraging police officers from providing testimony questioning Overhoff’s reliability.
In a written statement Thursday, Kirkpatrick said the department acted appropriately and noted that the investigation that determined there was enough evidence to file a charge against Mehring came from county detectives, not from her department.
“We will never turn a blind eye to complaints of domestic violence. In the Mehring case, we simply responded,” Kirkpatrick said. “Detective Mehring’s case was turned over to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for an objective investigation.”
Mehring, 41, earns $79,365 a year. The city paid him about $134,000 to make up for lost wages, benefits and interest after he was reinstated. Dunn said the $3.5 million figure is to compensate Mehring for negative impacts to his career, emotional distress, harm to his reputation and other factors.
In an interview Thursday, Mehring said the episode “entirely disrupted my life.”
“It should have been looked into and seen for what it was,” he said. “It became an opportunity to make an example as opposed to finding out the truth of what’s really going on.”