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Spokane’s top 2 police officials leaving department

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 13, 2011, 1:26 p.m.

The Spokane Police Department confirmed today that both Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Assistant Chief Jim Nicks will leave the department within the next few months.

Department spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said Kirkpatrick – who is on vacation – has been consistent that she had a five-year plan for her stay in Spokane.

Kirkpatrick recently told city leaders that she is “ready to move on for my next chapter. You need to kind of think of a timeline,” DeRuwe said. “Whoever the mayor is, they are going to have a vacancy they will need to fill.”

In addition, Assistant Chief Jim Nicks – who is scheduled to testify as a prosecution witness in the upcoming federal trial against Officer Karl F. Thompson, Jr. – told the department’s senior staff that he plans to retire early next year as well, DeRuwe said.

“Chief Nicks shared internally at a senior staff meeting that his future plans would coincide with her plans, depending on the transition,” DeRuwe said.

Both Kirkpatrick and Nicks have expressed interest in helping city leaders during the search for the next chief.

“There are so many things changing. It’s a new chapter for all of us,” DeRuwe said. “The mayor, whoever it is, could hire from outside or inside. Internally, it’s all about to change.”

Kirkpatrick, 51, reached her five-year anniversary this month and announced in April that she had conversations with Mayor Mary Verner about finding a replacement starting in early 2012.

Kirkpatrick had DeRuwe respond to a request for an interview and calls placed to Nicks were not immediately returned.

Asked if the departures were related to the controversy over how the department has handled the investigation into the death of Otto Zehm, DeRuwe said, “I don’t think so. There was no indication to me. The chief has been very consistent about her plans. As far as Nicks, I don’t know.”

DeRuwe later sent a statement by Nicks.

“I am approaching my 32nd year in law enforcement, my 30th with Spokane Police Department,” he said in the news release. “The timing is right, as I have reached retirement age, to pursue other interests. My retirement is consistent with my long range plans; coincidentally with Chief Kirkpatrick’s departure.”

Nicks was acting chief during the Zehm confrontation and he publicly backed Thompson’s actions, saying the 36-year-old mentally ill janitor “attacked” and “lunged” at Thompson.

But he later told federal prosecutors that Thompson violated department use-of-force policies and that detectives failed to thoroughly investigate the convenience store beating on March 18, 2006. Zehm died two days later.

“Based on the video, during Officer Thompson’s initial engagement of Otto Zehm, Mr. Zehm appears to be ‘active resistant’ and is not assaultive toward the officer. Therefore Officer Thompson was not authorized to utilize an impact weapon on and strike Zehm,” Nicks said, according to the court records.

The expected testimony is a reversal of the department’s official version of the events. It also contradicts the city’s position that its officers handled the case properly, and that Zehm bore responsibility for the escalation of force by continuing to flail as officers beat him.

Nicks’ 2008 grand jury testimony became a key part of the June 19, 2009, indictment charging Thompson with using unreasonable force and lying to investigators. Indications that Nicks would testify for prosecutors became public in March 2010 and Verner said last month that she wanted to revisit the city’s legal strategy.

But the civil case against the city remains unresolved, and Verner then announced Friday her “intent” to do a full internal and external review of the city’s handling of the case.

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