Independent investigator hired in Stephens inquiry
Former federal judge will review issues related to suspension of interim Spokane police chief
Ten weeks after placing assistant Spokane police Chief Scott Stephens on paid leave, city leaders say they will start an investigation into the “circumstances” that led to his removal from duty.
Chief Frank Straub placed Stephens, a 27-year veteran of the force and former interim chief, on leave on Dec. 20. Officials have never publicly explained why.
While he’s been on paid leave, Stephens is earning his assistant chief salary of $155,800 year.
Mayor David Condon announced Monday that retired U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan, of Oregon, will lead the investigation.
The Spokane Police Department has an internal affairs staff that normally investigates cases of alleged employee misconduct. In this case, however, the city has turned to Hogan, an accomplished mediator who brokered the city’s settlement with the family of Otto Zehm, who died after a violent struggle with police.
Hogan also is credited with untangling bankruptcy disputes that threatened the foreclosure of Spokane Catholic churches and schools.
City spokesman Brian Coddington said the city opted to hire an outside investigator instead because it would be difficult for officers to review the actions of their former chief.
“This allows for an independent fact-finder to review the circumstance without putting anyone in an awkward position,” he said.
Condon said in January that he expected to be able to explain to the public in “days or weeks, not months” why Stephens was placed on leave.
City officials said they delayed an investigation in hopes of resolving the matter with Stephens.
Stephens’ leave was “a sensitive personnel matter during a time of transition that required some diligence to explore a mutually acceptable resolution,” Condon’s prepared statement said. “We have established a process through which information can be gathered and evaluated objectively to produce the best result for everyone involved.”
Coddington said Stephens has been represented by attorney Bob Dunn and that the decision to hire Hogan was the city’s. Dunn could not be reached for comment Monday.
Straub replaced Stephens, who served as the interim police chief for nine months last year. Condon, Straub and City Council members consistently praised Stephens for his work leading the department.
The day after Stephens was placed on leave, Straub announced a reorganization of the department in which Stephens was demoted to captain – two ranks below assistant chief. In the city’s news release about the decision to hire Hogan, Stephens was referred to as a lieutenant. That’s three ranks below assistant chief.
Coddington said Straub intended for Stephens to be a captain, but that there wasn’t an opening, so if he comes back to work, Stephens will be a lieutenant.
Hogan will be paid a daily rate and is expected to work for about a month.Besides the Zehm case, Hogan also mediated the settlement last year between the city and Detective Jeff Harvey, who had been fired for what the city described as a “troubled work history.” The city apologized and paid the detective $350,000. The city rehired Harvey prior to the settlement.
There has been significant speculation that Stephens was placed on leave as a result of his reaction to his demotion, but officials have not explained how he responded or even when Stephens was informed that he would become a captain. Attempts to reach Stephens have been unsuccessful.
Stephens served as interim police chief after the departure of Chief Anne Kirkpatrick at the end of 2011. He became assistant chief when Straub took over on Oct. 1.
Retired Lt. Dave McGovern wrote a letter to the editor to The Spokesman-Review in January indicating that Stephens was upset with his demotion. McGovern wrote that Stephens led the department admirably “through a most difficult period in recent history.”
“Stephens got a pat on the head for his efforts and a demotion to a paper-pushing captain,” McGovern wrote. “No wonder Stephens did not take the demotion well.”
Asked why Stephens was placed on leave during a live call-in show on KSPS on Feb. 6, Straub addressed his decision to replace Stephens as assistant chief. He noted that he only had the power to select one manager without civil service rules influencing who the candidates would be.
“That one person who I rely on day-in and day-out to complement my strengths and my weaknesses really has to be my pick,” he said on the show. “What folks saw with Chief Stephens – somebody who did a very good job serving this community as the interim chief – is that it was time for me to make a decision who was going to be my new No. 2 person, and that’s what I did, and now we’re sorting out what the details of that decision look like.”