March 2, 2011 in City

Civil suit against former SPD officer dismissed

 
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Former Spokane Police Officer James “Jay” Olsen won’t face any civil penalties for shooting a fleeing, unarmed man in the head in 2007.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward F. Shea agreed with a request by Olsen’s attorney, Rob Cossey, to dismiss the civil lawsuit brought by Shonto Pete, who was unable to find an attorney to represent him after Shea ruled last year to drop the City of Spokane from the case.

“I know this is a sad day for you Mr. Pete,” Shea said. “I gave you 100 days to complete discovery. You have simply failed to carry that out, so I’m dismissing the case.”

Pete yelled at Shea as he walked off the bench: “That’s what you call justice? Justice is a joke.”

The case began on Feb. 26, 2007, when both Pete and Olsen had been drinking. Olsen, who was off duty at the time, was carrying a concealed gun at Dempsey’s Brass Rail when he claims he saw Pete try to steal his truck in downtown Spokane.

Olsen chased Pete, mostly on foot, and shot him in the back of the head as Pete ran down an embankment into Peaceful Valley. Pete, who was also legally drunk that night, was later exonerated on a criminal charge that he stole Olsen’s truck.

In December 2008, Pete filed a $750,000 claim against Olsen and the city, citing a violation of his civil rights. And then in 2009, a Spokane jury acquitted Olsen of first-degree assault and reckless endangerment in connection with the shooting.

A short time later, Olsen quit the police force before Chief Anne Kirkpatrick could decide whether to fire him for his actions. As a result of his acquittal, Olsen was paid $167,712 in back pay, including $9,795 for overtime. Acting City Human Reserouces Director Erin Jacobson said in an interview earlier this year that Olsen was granted overtime — even though he didn’t work at all — because when calculating backpay, the city estimates how much overtime an employee likely would have received had they not been placed on leave.

The civil cased proceeded but Shea ruled a year ago to drop the city from the case, and Pete’s attorneys then quit the case. Pete told Shea today that he has continued to try to find another attorney to advance his case but he could not.

“I didn’t get the $150,000 in back pay to find an attorney. All I got was $10.12 for being a witness,” Pete said. “In order for me to get a fair shot at this, I am asking for a little more time to advance this … especially being the victim in this matter.”

But Shea pointed out that he had already given Pete more time.

“My responsibility is to both parties,” Shea said. “Mr. Olsen has rights, too. I’m going to dismiss the case for failure to prosecute.”

Olsen, 47, declined a request for comment following the hearing.

“This has been a long haul,” Cossey said on behalf of Olsen. “He wants to get on with his life. Judge Shea was very very fair with Mr. Pete.”

Pete, who still has $20,000 in medical bills, disagreed.

“It’s a joke. Judge Shea is a joke. What justice is that when you can’t even get a fair shake in front of a jury to discuss your case? You get to shoot someone and not be held responsible,” he said. “People are supposed to be held responsible for the things you do. And, (Olsen) got off scot-free.”

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