May 31, 2013 in City
Officials, mum on cop, let felon off
Arresting officer in firearm case on unexplained leave
A gun charge against an outlaw biker – considered so dangerous that Spokane police last year called in a SWAT team to apprehend him on an unrelated assault charge – was dropped Thursday when prosecutors and city officials declined to disclose in court why his arresting officer is now on administrative leave.
Jerry W. Clark, a 41-year-old convicted felon with reputed ties to the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, had been facing up to 4 1/2 years in prison if convicted at his trial for unlawful possession of a firearm.
But a deputy prosecutor asked that the case be dismissed rather than comply with Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark’s order for the city to turn over documents from Spokane police Officer Darrell Quarles’ internal investigation to the defense attorney. An assistant Spokane city attorney supported the dismissal. The judge dismissed the charge with prejudice, meaning it can’t be refiled.
Quarles was one of two officers who arrested Clark on the firearms charge last year, and the defense had sought details of the internal police investigation before Clark’s trial, scheduled to begin Monday, under pretrial discovery rules.
Although prosecutors fought the request, the judge ordered the information turned over to the defense as potentially relevant. The city had confirmed earlier this month, without elaboration, that Quarles had been placed on leave.
Police Chief Frank Straub, who has pledged to make Spokane the safest city of its size in the nation, said he supports the legal efforts to keep Quarles’ internal investigation closed, even if it means giving up prosecution of an ex-convict with a history of violence.
“I don’t support giving information about open cases to anybody,” Straub said. “We have an obligation to protect the due process rights and privacy rights of our officers during the course of an administrative or criminal investigation.”
He noted that it was county prosecutors who decided to drop the felony charge instead of seeking other options such as requesting a delay in the case.
“I feel very strongly that there is no correlation with this city’s commitment to reduce crime and violence and the decision to protect an officer’s due-process rights,” Straub said.
Mayor David Condon, who has made public safety and police accountability his top priority, also noted through spokesman Brian Coddington that the decision to request dismissal came from the deputy county prosecutor.
Prosecutor Steve Tucker and Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll did not immediately respond to email and phone messages seeking comment.
The city announced on May 20 that Quarles had been placed on administrative leave May 7 pending an internal investigation. But city and police officials have not said why the investigation was initiated.
Quarles has retained defense attorney Robert Cossey, who would not say what allegations prompted the internal investigation.
“I can’t comment on it,” Cossey said. “I do not believe there was any criminal activity on his part.”
Quarles was one of two officers who arrested Jerry Clark in February 2012 after Clark’s daughters turned him in for carrying a gun in his car.
Since Quarles was one of the key witnesses, Clark’s defense attorney Kari Reardon subpoenaed Spokane police on May 21 requesting records of the ongoing internal investigation.
Assistant City Attorney Mary Muramatsu, who also serves as the police department’s legal adviser, responded with a legal argument stating why the city shouldn’t be forced to divulge the nature of the investigation into Quarles.
“The premature release of mere accusations prior to the completion of an investigation is neither responsible nor supported by the law, and it does not serve the interests of effective law enforcement,” Muramatsu wrote.
But Reardon wrote that she needed the information because it “relates directly to Officer Quarles credibility as a law enforcement officer. Clearly, SPD had enough of a concern about Officer Quarles that he was placed on leave and is not allowed to work.”
Reardon noted that the same department allowed Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. to continue working a desk job despite his indictment for using excessive force and lying to investigators about his 2006 fatal confrontation with Otto Zehm. “That an officer has been removed from work while something is investigated certainly causes the defense to believe that allegation must be very serious,” Reardon wrote.
Judge Clark sided with Reardon but also issued a protective order prohibiting public disclosure of the investigative details beyond the defense team.
Within minutes, Muramatsu returned to the courtroom with Marriya Wright, the deputy prosecutor. They then presented Judge Clark an order dismissing the weapons charge against Clark, who has five felony convictions: attempting to elude police, riot with a deadly weapon, theft, burglary and possession of controlled substances.
In addition to his felony convictions, Clark has eight misdemeanor convictions including resisting arrest, two domestic violence assaults and two violations of no-contact orders.
Just last June, after Clark bonded out on the unlawful possession of a firearm charge, officers responded to a report from Clark’s girlfriend alleging that he had committed a serious assault on her.
Officers attempted to conduct a traffic stop on Clark, but he sped away in what became a police pursuit through the West Central neighborhood. He eventually ditched his car and fled on foot, according to court records.
After police lost him, Clark was spotted returning to his home in the 1100 block of West Providence Avenue. Because officers believed Clark could be armed and had ties to the Hells Angels, they deployed the SWAT team for the arrest.
A jury later acquitted Clark of the second-degree assault charge but convicted him of felony attempting to elude police.
Clark, who is not in custody, also has pending charges for unlawful possession of a firearm, driving on a suspended license and four counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.
Staff writer Jonathan Brunt contributed to