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Doug Clark: Straub, pay attention to avoid repeating history

Thu., Oct. 25, 2012, midnight

I’m hoping the man we just hired to put our broken Spokane Police Department back together is a newspaper reader.

Or at least I hope Frank Straub was reading on Wednesday.

If so, our new police chief was offered a glaring glimpse of the culture of corruption he’s up against.

This comes thanks to revelations contained in reporter Tom Clouse’s fine story about the now-unsealed grand jury testimony of Jeff Harvey.

If Harvey’s name sounds familiar, it should.

He’s the one and the same cop who was rehired and then handed $350 grand plus an apology from the city as payback for being clumsily canned by former Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

The outrageousness of paying this sad excuse would fill a column all by itself.

But three years ago Harvey was a detective and vice president of la Copa Nostra, aka the Spokane Police Guild.

That’s when he faced a grand jury regarding officer Karl Thompson Jr.’s violent attack on Otto Zehm, who died two days later.

Being so politically plugged in meant Harvey was privy to all sorts of juicy secrets that could unleash shame upon his place of employment.

Being called to face a grand jury must be a liberating experience.

Yes, there’s nothing quite like the fear of perjury to loosen a fellow’s lips.

And so Harvey warbled like that sweet canary of yore.

And warbled …

And in all the truth spilling, ol’ Harv confirmed many of the rancid suspicions that I had formed about the SPD in the days, months and years that followed Thompson’s 2006 destruction of an innocent citizen in a North Division convenience store.

This was a sinister disgrace front to back.

Yet despite all the badge-wearing mischief, despite our chicken-hearted county prosecutor’s unwillingness to do his job, Thompson was convicted last November by a federal jury for excessive use of force and for lying about what he had done.

Thompson is scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 15, when, God willing, he’ll finally get the prison stretch he deserves.

Meanwhile, the release of Harvey’s grand jury testimony has revealed some startling gems, such as …

• Terry Ferguson, the lead detective investigating the case, thought the release of the in-store videotapes that captured Thompson’s assault would inflame the public.

• Harvey and others within the police department funneled key information about the case to Thompson despite the fact that he was being criminally investigated for his misdeeds.

• Harvey testified that Ferguson was “glad that Zehm was Caucasian and not black” due to the possible fallout from the public.


My fear is that Chief Straub has already blown off the Zehm saga as unfortunate ancient history that need not concern him.

And that would be a monumental mistake.

I would remind him that less than a year ago some 50 members of the police department stood and saluted Thompson as the convicted felon was led from a courtroom.

Don’t doubt it. The cowboy culture is still very much alive and well at the cop shop.

Straub could very well be the man who can turn things around.

But to make it happen he needs to empower those officers who want true change and push out the snakes who are in the way.

Do that and maybe one day the SPD will again stand for “Service, Pride & Dedication.”

Instead of “Secrecy, Paranoia & Deceit.”

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432

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