May 18, 2010 in City
Firefighter pleads not guilty; new prosecutor appointed
COLVILLE – A new prosecutor was named today to handle the felony charges against Spokane fire Lt. Todd Chism, who is accused of assaulting two Washington State Patrol troopers during a confrontation last month where witnesses allege Chism threatened to beat one trooper to death.
Chism, who was exonerated two years ago during a WSP investigation into possession of child pornography, is on unpaid layoff status from his job that pays $93,535 per year. He pleaded innocent to the new charges Tuesday and his attorney, Carl Oreskovich, successfully sought to replace Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen.
Oreskovich told Superior Court Judge Al Nielson that he expects to call Rasmussen to testify about how he prosecuted Trooper Greg Birkeland, who is named as one of the victims in the new case against Chism, for a hit-and-run collision on New Year’s Day 2004.
“It is expected that Mr. Rasmussen’s testimony will be material to impeach the credibility of the State’s witness,” Oreskovich wrote in court records. “The rule is clear that counsel cannot act as an advocate and a witness in the same trial.”
Nielson granted the request and set a trial date of Aug. 2 for Chism, who pleaded not guilty. Ferry County Prosecutor Mike Sandona will now handle the case in which Chism faces two felony counts of third-degree assault. He also faces the misdemeanor charges of resistant arrest and driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
The charges stem from a call in the early morning hours of April 6 about a vehicle in the ditch off Highway 291 just outside Chism’s driveway. Trooper Gregory Riddell arrived on the scene and was told by an unidentified firefighter that the driver was refusing aid.
Chism exited his truck and told Riddell he would get it unstuck the next day. He told Riddell he could go home. But Riddell saw Chism stumble and noted that he had bloodshot eyes and an open pants zipper, according to court records. Chism, who said he’d earlier been drinking at home, failed a field sobriety test.
Trooper Riddell then called Trooper Greg Birkeland to take over the investigation because Riddell’s shift was ending. Chism then became agitated when Birkeland apparently noted that Chism’s name sounded “familiar.”
After failing the sobriety tests, the troopers attempted to take Chism into custody. Both said he resisted and Riddell shocked Chism with a Taser after he advanced toward Birkeland, according to court records.
A brawl ensued in which one trooper suffered a broken thumb, the other suffered an injured hand and Chism suffered punches to the left eye. After the troopers handcuffed Chism, he reportedly asked to have his cuffs taken off so he could beat Riddell “to death,” according to court documents.
In his court filing, Oreskovich said Rasmussen previously prosecuted Birkeland for charges stemming from a hit-and-run collision on Jan. 1, 2004, in Spokane.
A homeowner reported at 2:30 a.m. that someone crashed a vehicle into his property and identified the driver as Birkeland “who smelled like a brewery,” Oreskovich wrote.
However, the report detailing that contact with the homeowner was excluded by the judge in the case.
“Mr. Rasmussen cross examined Trooper Birkeland without benefit of the complete investigative report and it was later determined that Trooper Birkeland did not testify truthfully while he was previously under oath regarding his hit and run accident,” Oreskovich wrote. “Officer Birkeland is one of the arresting troopers in the instant case against Mr. Chism so his credibility will be a material issue.”