NW today: Montana fires coach, athletic director

What’s news in the Northwest today:

HELENA — The University of Montana fired football coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O’Day on Thursday, adding more uncertainty to a program already dealing with sexual assault allegations against two of its players.

Pflugrad, who was honored as Big Sky coach of the year last season, and O’Day were notified in a meeting with university President Royce Engstrom that their contracts would not be renewed, said assistant athletic director Greg Sundberg.

O’Day and Engstrom addressed staff and coaches in separate meetings Thursday morning, but neither gave a reason for the firings, Sundberg said.

“I think it was time for a leadership change, is what I gathered,” Sundberg said.

The Missoulian first reported the story on Thursday morning. Engstrom sent a statement that thanked the men and said the university plans to announce an interim coach and athletic director by the end of the week.

Sundberg said he did not know whether the football players have been addressed.

“It definitely sets us back a little, but we have a good group of staff and coaches that will keep us moving forward in a positive direction and build on what Jim O’Day has done in the last seven years,” Sundberg said.

Gregoire anticipates special election

OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire says there will be a special election this year to replace departed U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, but it’s not yet clear who will vote in that race.

Gregoire said Tuesday that the state must have representation in the 1st District later this year because major issues may come up for a vote in December. Inslee resigned his seat earlier this month to run for governor.

The situation has created confusion because of redistricting, which will dramatically reshape the 1st District next year. So, voters may end up voting twice for 1st District representation in November. Gregoire says it’s possible that voters in the old 1st District will vote to have someone represent them for a short while before the new 1st District representative is seated in January.

Grant will open up ‘untouched’ place to research

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community has received a federal conservation grant it plans to use for habitat research on the “relatively untouched” Kukutali Preserve on the west side of the reservation.

The tribe, one of 23 nationwide to receive some of the federal conservation money, netted about $200,000 of the $4.2 million distributed across the U.S. The habitat research will help determine future public access to the 118 acres of tidelands, uplands and old-growth forests, which includes Kiket Island and surrounding areas, and inform future restoration projects.

The Swinomish jointly purchased the land with Washington State Parks and Recreation in June 2010 and the two manage the preserve together, said tribal attorney Emily Hutchinson, who also serves as the tribe’s adviser to the Kukutali Management Board.

While there is some residential development on the preserve and a road that connects Kiket Island to Fidalgo Island, most of the Kukutali Preserve’s two miles of shoreline is “pristine and intact,” Hutchinson said.

Public access is limited to group tours that are offered twice every Saturday by the preserve’s caretaker.

Depending on the outcome of the studies, greater — though still limited — public access may be allowed, Hutchinson said.

Doctor, mother will spend years in prison in prescription fraud

TACOMA — A doctor who prescribed large amounts of oxycodone and methadone from clinics in Tacoma, Lakewood, Aberdeen and Lacey was sentenced in federal court Thursday to more than 12 years in prison.

The 41-year-old Antoine Johnson was convicted in November in Tacoma of illegal drug distribution, health care fraud and filing false income tax returns.

His mother and manager, 63-year-old Lawanda Johnson, was convicted of health care fraud and filing false income tax return. She was sentenced to more than seven years in prison.

The two also were ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution.

Federal prosecutors said they dispensed narcotics without examining patients and overbilled Medicaid.

The doctor and his mother fled the country in 2009 after drug and tax agents raided the clinics. They were arrested in Madagascar.

Murder suspect refused treatment for head wound

ST. HELENS, Ore. — The man awaiting trial in the shooting death of the Rainier police chief was in court Wednesday in St. Helens for refusing treatment for a self-inflicted head wound.

Lawyers for Daniel Butts of Kalama, Wash., asked a judge to address concerns over his medical situation.

KGW reports Butts stabbed himself in the head in January in the Columbia County Jail and refused hospital treatment for the wound, which became infected. The judge set a timetable to address the issue.

Butts has pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder in the January 2011 shooting of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter who had responded to a report of a suspicious person at a car stereo shop.

Seattle police reforms proposed

SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on Thursday proposed a series of police reforms in response to a damning federal report that came after several high-profile incidents involving minorities.

McGinn and police Chief John Diaz said among the 20 initiatives to be implemented over 20 months were training for all officers on use of force standards, the development of protocol to make sure encounters don’t escalate and steps to address biased policing.

“As mayor, I will be holding police leadership accountable to achieve these changes,” McGinn said at a City Hall news conference.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department said inadequate supervision and training had led officers to grab weapons such as batons and flashlights too quickly, intensifying confrontations — even when arresting people for minor offenses.

The department launched an investigation following the fatal shooting of a homeless Native American woodcarver and other reported uses of force against minorities.

Federal investigators determined Seattle police engaged in excessive force that violated federal law and the Constitution.

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