A disagreement between the interim Spokane police chief and the ombudsman about how a police misconduct allegation should be investigated has been resolved after witnesses came forward with new information.
A meeting scheduled last Friday between Interim Chief Scott Stephens, Ombudsman Tim Burns and Mayor David Condon never happened because Stephens informed Condon of his intention to investigate the accusation that police bruised a woman’s arms while handcuffing her at her home in early April.
Stephens initially decided to forgo a follow-up on the complaint, in part by questioning its credibility. The complaint was filed by the woman’s husband, and Burns said Stephens told him that if the complaint was founded the woman would have submitted it herself. Burns challenged Stephens’ decision and intended to request that Condon force Stephens to investigate the allegation.
The couple submitted more information about the complaint after seeing an article about Stephens and Burns’ dispute in The Spokesman-Review.
Stephens decided the new information warranted an investigation, said Marlene Feist, spokeswoman for the city of Spokane.
“In part, that was the chief’s concern, that he didn’t have direct information from the person that the complaint was about. … The chief then felt like that new information did rise to the level of requiring an investigation,” Feist said. “The mayor agreed that that was the best course of action.”
Stephens is on vacation this week for his birthday and was not available to comment, said Jennifer DeRuwe, spokeswoman for the Spokane Police Department.
Burns said he couldn’t detail the new information because the investigation is ongoing, but he said it included photographs.
Justin Matthew Anest, 39, who filed the original complaint, told The Spokesman-Review he provided Burns with photos of his wife’s bruises. He said he also gave Burns a tape from his surveillance video in which his wife can be heard screaming and an officer tells another officer “She don’t like you” before they enter the home and arrest the woman.
“You can hear her screaming saying you’re hurting me, you’re hurting me,” Anest said. “Next thing you know, she’s going to jail.”
The tape is from surveillance cameras that Anest said the officers tampered with when they arrived at the home. Burns said he understands why police adjusted the cameras so that they couldn’t track the officer’s movements. That’s an officer safety concern, Burns said.
But Anest questions the legality of officers touching his home cameras, and Burns is seeking advice from his legal counsel. He said Stephens has agreed to comply with whatever counsel says about the legality of touching the cameras.
Anest said he and his wife will talk to internal affairs Sgt. Dave McCabe on Tuesday morning. His stepdaughter, whom he alleges was pushed by an officer, also is to talk to McCabe, he said.
Anest said the officers arrived at his home after a neighbor called police about a possible domestic-violence situation. He said he and his wife were busy getting the kids ready for church and that officers questioned him about a scratch on his nose that he said he sustained while doing yard work. He said his wife was arrested on suspicion of assault but later released from jail.
Anest has an extensive criminal history that includes a federal conviction for growing marijuana. He sued the Spokane County Jail in 2006, alleging excessive force. A judge dismissed the case and said the officers’ use of force, which included pepper spray, was necessary to control Anest, who was described as disruptive and physically resistive. The judge noted that Anest sustained minimal injuries.
Anest was released from federal prison in November 2008.
Burns said that while the new information resolved this dispute, it didn’t address his concerns about how complaints about police misconduct are handled or investigated. He questions the police department’s policy that allows Stephens to recommend a complaint not be investigated because of credibility concerns about the complainant.
“What would have happened had the complainant not come forward with additional information?” Burns said. “We need to refine the process.”