City settles with Stephens
Pending council approval, departing assistant police chief will get $190,000
Spokane taxpayers would pay Assistant Police Chief Scott Stephens $190,000 under a settlement announced Friday in which he would leave the department after he was singled out for demotion and then investigated for an alleged threat.
Stephens, a former interim chief and 27-year veteran of the force, was placed on paid leave Dec. 20, the day after being advised that he would be demoted as part of a departmental reorganization. On Dec. 19 he allegedly told a friend in the department that “he did not think anyone would blame him if he took action” in response, according to a two-page investigative report about the incident prepared by a retired U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan, of Oregon.
That colleague perceived Stephens’ comments as a threat. Her name was not released in the report.
“In the last few days, we were able to settle with the assistant chief, Scott Stephens, and to thank him for his service to the city but also to separate and have a settlement that I believe is fair to all,” Mayor David Condon said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
The settlement will be considered by the Spokane City Council on May 6.
While on paid leave for about four months, Stephens continued to be paid at the assistant chief salary of $155,800 a year.
Bob Dunn, Stephens’ attorney, said Stephens committed no wrongdoing. Attempts made to reach Stephens were unsuccessful Friday. Stephens filed a $750,000 claim with the city last week for violating his rights.
In March, Condon hired Hogan to investigate what occurred. He will be paid up to $15,000 for his work.
Stephens served as interim chief for nine months last year, until he was replaced by Frank Straub on Oct. 1. The alleged incident occurred Dec. 19, the same day Stephens was informed that he would be demoted to captain, a position ranked below assistant chief and the newly created position of commander.
“The chief and command staff reacted appropriately given the nature of the perceived threat,” Hogan wrote in his report, which was released Friday afternoon. “The finder of fact believes that such statements were made; however, taken in the context of the events of the day and the colleague to whom Stephens was speaking, there is consideration that should be given, even though such statements are arguably actionable.”
Dunn said in March that after Stephens was told about the demotion, Stephens had a private conversation with a friend who works within the department.
“The story is that this friend went to (newly appointed Assistant Chief Craig) Meidl and Straub and indicated that Stephens was so distraught that he was going to go home and get his weapon,” Dunn said in March.
Dunn accused Condon and Straub of using a false allegation to ruin Stephens’ reputation in an attempt to force him out of the department.
City Council President Ben Stuckart said the deal is “fair, given the circumstances.”
“He did an excellent job as interim chief,” Stuckart said. “We need to move beyond the individual situations and work hard to get more police hired and keep increasing the trust between the citizens and the department.”
Stephens led the department at what has been described as one of its most tumultuous periods. He took over less than two months after a federal jury convicted Senior Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. of lying to investigators and violating the rights of Otto Zehm, who died in police custody in 2006. Federal officials accused the department of a cover-up in the case.
His first day as interim chief also was less than two months after another jury awarded Detective Jay Mehring more than $700,000 for wrongful termination and retaliation. When Stephens’ predecessor, Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, left the department, she and the Spokane Police Guild were not on speaking terms.
As chief, Stephens was widely praised among elected leaders for bringing stability to the department and beginning the healing process needed to bring respect back to the force. But Stephens’ record also had ties to the Zehm case because as a lieutenant in 2006, he supervised the department’s major crimes division during the police examination into Zehm’s death, an investigation that federal officials described as flawed.
Hogan mediated the city’s settlement with the Zehm family and another settlement with Detective Jeff Harvey, who was fired and later rehired by the city. Both settlements were completed last year.
Condon said he was “frustrated” by the length of the investigation but that the city has paid out substantially more when it rushed investigations into alleged misconduct.
“As we’ve noticed in the past, if you don’t do things with a deliberative approach with a purposeful method, these cases can be much worse,” Condon said.