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Center for Justice calls oversight in proposed city, police union contract ‘a travesty’

Public-interest law firm the Center for Justice has seen a copy of the tentative labor contract between Spokane and its police union and called the provisions for oversight of the department “a travesty.”

The agreement doesn’t comply with a City Charter amendment requiring the city to give the ombudsman power to independently investigate police wrongdoing, the law firm’s executive director said in a letter Thursday to Spokane Mayor David Condon and Council President Ben Stuckart.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1 last February calling for such power.

Members of the Spokane Police Guild are currently considering a labor agreement reached after more than two years of negotiations and state mediation.

The Center for Justice was given a copy of the tentative contract to review but agreed not to publicly release it.

Details of the agreement remain confidential until after the Guild votes on the proposed contract, which is expected next week. It would then go to the City Council for public consideration.

The letter sent by the Center for Justice on Thursday, however, said the new contract “is so plainly contrary to Proposition 1 that the City Council cannot vote to approve it without being in violation (of the charter amendment).” It was signed by Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of the center.

Stuckart has said he wants to hold public forums on the contract as well as a proposed ordinance needed to boost the ombudsman’s powers. A council vote on the ordinance was postponed on Oct. 7 because of the pending contract agreement.

Currently, the ombudsman can’t independently investigate allegations of police wrongdoing; he mainly monitors the department’s internal affairs investigations.

Eichstaedt recommended that the proposed contract be reviewed first by the mayor’s Use of Force Commission, which has recommended an independent ombudsman.

He said the proposed contract and council decision to postpone action were major setbacks in “the city’s efforts to rebuild public confidence” in the department and city administration.

The Center for Justice sued the city and police on behalf of the mother and estate of Otto Zehm, an unarmed janitor who died after a violent encounter with police in 2006. The case was settled in 2012 when the city paid $1.67 million in damages to Zehm’s family.

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