Facebook post discredits officer’s avowed fear of felons, lawyer says
A Spokane police officer who says he feared for his life after being threatened by a felon was asked in court Wednesday about supportive comments he posted on a Facebook page in support of another convicted felon – former Officer Karl Thompson.
Defense lawyer Doug Phelps questioned Officer Chris McMurtrey’s contention that 38-year-old Rudy Ray Cordova’s prior convictions for violent crimes were a cause for concern, noting that Thompson has been convicted of a violent crime, too. Cordova is standing trial for threats he made to McMurtrey while McMurtrey was arresting him last year.
At Phelps’ request Wednesday, McMurtrey read a message he’d posted on the We Support Karl Thompson page on the popular social networking website.
In the message, McMurtrey wishes Thompson a happy Veterans Day and thanks him “for his service to this great country.”
“Too bad it can’t return the favor,” McMurtrey wrote. “You are inspiration to all of us. It was great to see you today.”
McMurtrey posted the message on Nov. 11 – nine days after Thompson was convicted of two federal felonies for lying to investigators and violating unarmed Spokane janitor Otto Zehm’s civil rights by using excessive force during a 2006 encounter at a convenience store. He said he and other SWAT team members chatted with Thompson when Thompson visited SWAT training that day. Thompson resigned from the police department Nov. 17 before a disciplinary hearing in which he was expected to be fired.
The public Facebook page for Thompson supporters recently was replaced by a private group in which only members can see the content.
When the jury was not present, Deputy Prosecutor Steve Garvin had objected to jurors being told of McMurtrey’s support for Thompson, but Phelps argued it was relevant to the credibility of the officer’s claim that he feared Cordova in part because of Cordova’s criminal convictions.
Judge Maryann Moreno agreed but prohibited Phelps from mentioning Zehm’s death or getting into other details of Thompson’s case.
“It is not relevant to this case,” she said.
In testimony, McMurtrey said he never claimed he “feared people who have been convicted of criminal convictions.”
McMurtrey had arrested Cordova on suspicion of domestic violence assault Feb. 26 when Cordova told him, “That’s how people died, by taking the wrong people to jail. … Don’t worry. I’ll get out tomorrow and find out where you guys live. I’ve been to prison,” Garvin said in court.
McMurtrey wrote in his report that he knew Cordova was an armed criminal with an officer warning attached to his name in police records.
Phelps said the subjective nature of McMurtrey’s reported fear made the Facebook posting regarding another convicted violent criminal being his “inspiration” relevant.
“My client never tried to hit him, my client never tried to do anything to him. Mere words are what the state is relying on to prove its case,” Phelps said.
The charge against Cordova, felony harassment – threats to kill, alleges Cordova’s statements caused McMurtrey to fear for his life, and that it was reasonable to believe Cordova could carry out the threat.
McMurtrey declined comment after the hearing.
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