Shawn Vestal: In the sordid wake of the bikini-clad prosecutor
So, just to be clear: The prosecutor who was buddying up to a criminal – a criminal with the word “Criminal” tattooed on his forehead – turns out to be the one who dismissed felony charges against a reputed Hell’s Angel in order to cover up the internal investigation of a police officer who was hooking up with a criminal.
The cop’s still on the job, slapped gently on the wrist. The prosecutor’s on paid leave, pending an investigation. And the supposed Hell’s Angel? The one who once led police on a chase through West Central? The one police considered so dangerous they called out the SWAT team to arrest him?
Why, he found himself free, naturally, to walk into a local car dealership and float a bad $81,000 check.
The story of Marriya Wright – the Spokane County deputy prosecutor who apparently helped Matthew Baumrucker avoid arrest, texted him constantly while he was on the lam, and sent him at least one picture of herself in a bikini – might inspire mere disgusted titters. But the vein of corruption that runs through it is not at all funny. It casts a harsh backward light on the kind of judgment Wright may have employed beforehand, such as her decision last May to drop a felony charge against Jerry W. Clark for unlawful possession of a firearm.
It’s a long, dispiriting tale, according to public documents and news reports. It starts with a meeting at the Swamp Tavern back in November 2012 between Darrell Quarles, a recently divorced Spokane police officer, and Katelyn Capps, who was celebrating her 21st birthday. They started a relationship, and at some point Capps let Quarles know that she had been tied up in prostitution, drugs and burglary.
In May 2013, she told Quarles that she was being investigated in connection with recent burglaries. By that time, court documents now show, Capps had been interviewed by police detectives, had acknowledged her role in several burglaries, had driven around with detectives pointing out the locations of burglarized homes and stolen property, and had been confronted trying to sell stolen property at pawn shops.
Quarles went to review the investigative files of the case – a violation of department policy. He would later say that he did that for his own information and did not relay anything to Capps, who was regularly visiting his house during this time.
Investigators, meanwhile, placed a tracking device on Capps’ car, which they followed to Quarles’ home. On May 6, a detective contacted Quarles, who then broke off his relationship with Capps. Capps was charged with burglary, trafficking stolen goods and possession of a stolen firearm; she would later plead guilty to three charges and be given a suspended sentence. Quarles was placed on administrative leave pending an internal affairs investigation.
Meanwhile, a case he had investigated came to court. Clark, a convicted felon with reputed ties to the Hell’s Angels, was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and faced more than four years in prison. A seven-time felon, Clark had convictions for burglary, riot and attempting to elude police, in addition to a pile of misdemeanor assault convictions. Wright was the prosecutor.
Clark’s defense attorney asked for the nature of the investigation that landed Quarles on leave. A judge ordered Wright to turn it over, while prohibiting public disclosure to protect the ongoing internal investigation.
Faced with this choice – release the repeat offender or disclose the embarrassing nature of the Quarles inquiry – Wright dismissed the charge at the end of May 2013.
By July, Quarles was suspended without pay for two months and given a last-chance agreement. The last-chance agreement was to expire after one year – a bizarre version of a “last chance.”
Fast forward to this year, which found Wright and six-time felon Baumrucker engaged in heavy texting. Though the investigation is proceeding, Wright appears to have helped Baumrucker avoid the police while he was wanted on a felony drug warrant. Between February and March, as authorities were seeking him on an outstanding warrant, Baumrucker texted Wright 1,280 times.
One thousand, two hundred and eighty times.
About 50 times a day.
Wright’s misadventures, in the end, are not directly connected to Quarles’. On the other hand, the nexus of coincidence between the two, and the judgment they each employed on the job, produced a very concrete result: repeat felon Jerry Clark was not prosecuted on a gun charge.
A few months after that, in December 2013, Clark drove to Camp Chevrolet in north Spokane. He wrote them a check for $81,480 to buy a vehicle. The car salesmen were suspicious, and called police. Turns out the check was written on a closed account.
Clark was arrested once again. He pleaded guilty to a charge of money laundering in July – felony No. 8.
Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.