COLVILLE – Embattled Spokane firefighter Todd Chism won his latest legal battle with the Washington State Patrol on Thursday when a jury cleared him of all charges stemming from a violent 2010 confrontation that injured him and two Washington State Patrol troopers.
A Stevens County jury exonerated the suspended Chism of four felony counts and a misdemeanor resisting arrest, stemming from an early-morning melee outside his Nine Mile Falls home on April 6, 2010.
But the jury not only found him not guilty, they ordered the state to pay for his attorneys’ fees.
“Justice has been served,” said Chism, who was cleared in 2008 in a botched child pornography investigation by the WSP.
Earlier Thursday, Chism told the jurors he had spent the evening with friends before backing his diesel Dodge Ram pickup down his driveway so they could leave. When he pulled off the road, his truck got stuck and ran out of fuel about midnight.
Passersby reported what they thought was a crash. Chism said he returned to the truck a couple hours later, after having a few drinks, and was attempting to start the truck when firefighters arrived. Shortly thereafter, Trooper Greg Riddell arrived and he began questioning Chism, who smelled of alcohol and was unsteady on his feet.
Trooper Greg Birkeland then arrived to relieve Riddell, who was about to go off shift. Birkeland made a comment about Chism’s name being familiar. At that point, the stories completely diverged.
Chism – a lieutenant before his supension – said Birkeland’s comment angered him. He said the troopers began threatening him and then shot him with a Taser. Chism went down and then began to struggle with the troopers.
“I was trying to protect myself. I was trying to get a hand up to my head because I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “I didn’t try to harm anybody.”
The troopers described a rolling battle in which they shocked Chism – a two-time state champion Golden Gloves boxer – at least seven times with a taser and punched him in the head. They also testified Chism grabbed Riddell’s thumb and twisted it until it tore ligaments.
Attorneys showed the jury photos both of Riddell’s surgically repaired thumb, and one taken in the ambulance of Chism with a grossly swollen forehead, his eye was swollen shut, and blood was coming from multiple wounds including his nostrils.
“I was in shock,” Chism said. “I felt the same thing was happening – that I was being falsely accused. And, I was getting angry. I said some things I’m not proud of.”
Troopers made a public showing of a search warrant in 2008 at Chism’s home after they received allegations he possessed child pornography. The investigation revealed – some four months later – that the pornography had been purchased by someone who had stolen Chism’s credit card.
In response, he filed a $12 million lawsuit in federal court against the WSP. That case was dismissed in January, 2010, just months before his encounter with the troopers.
In closing arguments, Deputy Ferry County Prosecutor Mike Golden told the jury that Chism was further upset because he recently learned about his lawsuit being dismissed. Chism caused the melee because he didn’t comply, Golden argued.
“The pictures look like he got beat up,” Golden said. “If you pick a fight with two guys in body armor, you are going to get some scrapes on you.”
But defense attorney Carl Oreskovich – who was prohibited from telling the jury that Birkeland lied when he testified in his own trial for drinking-related charges in 2004 – said his client only wanted to talk until troopers became physical.
“If you feel like you were falsely accused of a crime, got beaten up and you just (defecated) yourself, don’t you think you would have some anger?” he asked the jury. “He reacts to a use of force and tries to defend himself. Do justice. This man has been through enough.”