January 5, 2013

City leaders surprised by Spokane Police Department shake up

By The Spokesman-Review
 

News of a Spokane Police Department shake-up surprised Spokane city leaders.

Officials have yet to release much information about what led police Chief Frank Straub to place the former interim chief, Capt. Scott Stephens, on indefinite administrative leave Dec. 20 because of what a department spokeswoman called an internal issue.

Stephens was the interim chief from the start of 2012 until Straub started work in the fall. Stephens then worked as assistant chief, but on Dec. 21, Straub announced a reorganization of the department, which included a demotion for Stephens to captain.

Spokane City Council members reached today said they were unaware that Stephens had been placed on leave until late last week.

Council President Ben Stuckart said he discussed the matter with Straub on Friday and couldn’t comment on the issue further. Other council members reached said they did not know what led to Straub to take action.

Councilman Steve Salvatori said he was surprised that Stephens had been placed on leave because he assumed that he would “play a big role” in helping Straub start strong as police chief.

Although he didn’t get Mayor David Condon’s nod for permanent chief, Stephens had won praise from Condon and other officials for his interim leadership.

“I always thought highly of Chief Stephens,” Salvatori said.

Straub placed Stephens on leave the day before announcing Stephens would be demoted from assistant chief to captain but would play a role in a reorganization in which he’d oversee the police department’s efforts to get state accreditation.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he also was surprised by the news but said he had little interaction with Stephens even when he was interim chief.

In Condon’s campaign for mayor in 2011, he said he would work to improve ties with the sheriff’s office and suggested that the two agencies should work more closely to deal with property crimes.

But Knezovich said there’s been little progress toward improving cooperation on property crimes or on other programs.

He suspects that’s one reason Stephens didn’t get Condon’s nod as chief. Condon did not return a call Saturday afternoon seeking comment.

Spokane Police Ombudsman Tim Burns said he was informed that Stephens was facing discipline last month but declined to comment further.

Staff writer Chelsea Bannach contributed to this report.

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