October 4, 2011 in City

Detective alleges witness tampering in civil suit against the city

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A Spokane police detective has filed a formal complaint asking the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office to investigate allegations that Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and city attorneys have engaged in felony witness tampering.

Detective Jay Mehring filed the complaint with the sheriff’s office Sunday, alleging that the city refused to renew a contract with the department’s longtime psychologist after she gave an opinion favorable to Mehring as part of his $3.5 million civil suit against the city. That suit alleges he was wrongfully terminated in 2007 amid reports that he threatened to harm his wife.

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Tuesday that the city denies any allegation of witness tampering.

“These allegations are serious, and the court will make the final ruling about their inclusion in the case,” Feist said. “In the meantime, we are very concerned that our employees are being defamed and depicted in a false light.”

Mehring, 43, has been on paid leave since Sept. 9, 2010. In his complaint, Mehring said police psychologist Dr. Deanette Palmer’s contract wasn’t renewed after she ruled that he was fit to return to duty.

“Dr. Palmer has been intimidated and punished for voicing her professional opinion of Detective Mehring which happened to be in contradiction to the agenda of the Chief and the City Attorney’s Office,” Mehring said in the complaint.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said via e-mail that he is reviewing the matter.

Palmer told attorneys in a sworn deposition that she had been the department’s psychologist for the past 22 years. Her full-time employment status changed to contract status six years ago, and she helped counsel officers after high-stress situations such as police shootings.

According to the complaint, she had been talking with Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi about a new contract when those conversations halted without explanation last April.

“All that I’m aware of is that, because of my involvement in Mr. Mehring’s case, there is question about whether or not it will be renewed as per the City Attorney’s office,” Palmer was quoted as saying during an Aug. 29 deposition.

Asked by attorney Susan Nelson whether Palmer believed her involvement in the lawsuit has “adversely affected” her contract with the city, Palmer said, “Definitely.”

Attorney Bob Dunn, who is representing Mehring, said the city’s handling of Palmer “adds to the notion that we have believed all along, that Detective Mehring has been subjected to a campaign of retaliatory misconduct.”

The legal posturing is the latest twist in a case that began in early 2007 when two police sergeants said Mehring had threatened to burn down his estranged wife’s home with her in it. The department charged Mehring with a felony and placed him on unpaid leave for 569 days.

His now ex-wife, Lisa Mehring, said in court documents that the case was blown out of proportion and that she and Jay Mehring were “victims of overzealous law enforcement, domestic violence laws and the legal system.”

The case went to trial and a jury acquitted Mehring in October 2008 of all charges. Kirkpatrick reinstated him with $134,000 in back pay, but demoted him.

Mehring, who earned $80,639 last year, filed a $3.5 million claim against the city last year for its handling of the case.

In court filings, Kirkpatrick defended her personnel decisions.

The case was further complicated on Sept. 9, 2010, when Mehring — who was on duty at the time — attended a deposition with Kirkpatrick wearing his service pistol. Kirkpatrick inquired about the gun, asked for a recess and immediately suspended Mehring under allegations that he was not fit for duty based on files in the lawsuit indicating that he had been treated for stress.

Later, Palmer examined Mehring as part of her city contract and deemed him fit for duty, which is what caused the city to end her contract, Dunn and Mehring allege.

“It hasn’t let up from the day the investigation started,” Dunn said. “It’s another step in the retaliatory process … based on some agenda the police chief has.”

Feist, the city spokeswoman, noted that Mehring’s complaint “comes two weeks before trial in Mr. Mehring’s civil lawsuit against the city and the police chief.”


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