April 2, 2011 in City

Topik acquitted in road rage trial

Ukrainian had faced robbery, assault charges
By The Spokesman-Review
 

When news circulated of Yakov Topik’s arrest in 2009 for robbery, assault and unlawful imprisonment, his mother received calls from friends and relatives from Ukraine questioning whether he and his brother were criminals.

But Topik got his day in court last week and a jury exonerated him on all charges stemming from a road rage incident on Halloween 2009 that resulted in a Spokane County Jail employee suffering a broken hand.

“They are good people,” Topik said of the jury that exonerated him. “They saw the truth for what it was. They gave me my life back.”

Topik had been facing several years in prison after Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz charged him with first-degree robbery, second-degree assault and four counts of unlawful imprisonment.

Deborah Logsdon, a longtime jail employee, told Spokane police that she, her husband and two grandchildren were out looking at Halloween decorations when they were confronted by two men and a woman near the intersection of Bridgeport Avenue and Ralph Street in northeast Spokane.

“She was forced to pull over by a suspect vehicle containing three occupants who were angry at her slow pace of driving,” Spokane police Detective Chet Gilmore wrote in his police report. “The second time she asked them to leave, she told them she would call police. Logsdon reached for her cell phone and flipped open to call 911 and Yakov ripped the phone from her hand, breaking her hand during the struggle.”

But Topik took the witness stand and testified that he was simply trying to get home when he encountered Logsdon’s car parked in the middle of the street. He honked, she flipped him off and he returned the gesture. Logsdon got out of her car and began screaming at him, Topik said. Her husband remained in the car.

“She yelled ‘citizen’s arrest’ after words were exchanged,” Topik said. “Her hands were wrapped around my neck and collar of my shirt, pulling me away from the car. She tried to pull me down. That’s when she broke her finger.”

At one point prior to trial, Steinmetz offered Topik a plea agreement that included five years in prison for the 26-year-old who has no previous criminal record. Instead, he chose to take the case to trial with defense attorney Frank Cikutovich.

“On paper, it looks miserable,” Cikutovich said of the case. “When the clients first came to me, it seemed like everybody was against them.”

But the jury saw it differently. As a result of the exoneration, the prosecutor’s office will be on the hook to pay for Topik’s defense, which Cikutovich estimated between $20,000 and $35,000.

“In over 15 years, I’ve never seen anyone charged so high, ever,” Cikutovich said. “I don’t know the reason. It seemed very extreme to charge him with all that.”

Steinmetz did not return messages left at his office Thursday and Friday.

Despite his victory, Topik is upset that his brother, 23-year-old Sergey A. Topik — who does have a criminal history — previously accepted an agreement to plead guilty to rendering criminal assistance in connection with the road rage case.

“They gave him a year” in prison, Topik said. “They also ordered him to pay $36,000 in restitution for the medical bills from Logsdon. He shouldn’t be paying for medical bills … that she caused herself.”

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