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Spokane officials investigating Rachel Dolezal’s behavior on ombudsman panel

Dolezal appears at a rally in downtown Spokane in March. (File)
Dolezal appears at a rally in downtown Spokane in March. (File)

Spokane’s embattled NAACP president faces a challenge on a new front.

A source close to Spokane City Hall said city officials have opened an investigation regarding Rachel Dolezal’s behavior as an Office of Police Ombudsman commissioner. The source declined to be named because the case still is open, but said the inquiry is not related to her claims about her race.

Police ombudsman commissioner Kevin Berkompas said he became aware of an investigation into Dolezal about a month ago but cannot discuss it.

“There is an open investigation,” he said. “I have not seen the investigation or the complaint. They have not told us who it was from.”

The examination of Dolezal’s work as an ombudsman commissioner makes two investigations open at City Hall related to Dolezal. Last week, Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart announced that the city would investigate whether Dolezal lied on her application to become an ombudsman commissioner. She checked multiple boxes on a form inquiring her race, including white and black. Last week, however, her parents said she is white and has been lying about her race.

Dolezal was appointed to the commission when it was formed last summer as part of an effort to boost oversight of the city’s Police Department. She was elected the president of the Spokane branch of the NAACP in November.

Attempts to reach her Saturday afternoon were unsuccessful. But late Friday, she sent out a statement promising to address the controversy swirling around her on Monday.

Both she and the NAACP executive committee will make statements during the NAACP meeting scheduled for Monday evening, Dolezal wrote in an email.

“I have discussed the situation, including personal matters, with the Executive Committee,” she said. “I support their decision to wait until Monday to make a statement.”

On Friday, an online petition calling for Dolezal to resign her position in the NAACP was posted on moveon.org by Kitara McClure, the former multicultural director at Spokane Community College and a member of the NAACP.

McClure argues that the issue that Dolezal needs to address is not race, it’s integrity.

“The basis for what’s really wrong with this entire situation has been lost in race,” she said. “Race is not the issue. You cannot lead without honesty.”

Dolezal did not just tell a single lie about her race, McClure said.

“It’s a web of half-truths and make believe,” she said. “For the local and the national NAACP to say they stand behind her is appalling.”

McClure said she worries that people will pull away from the NAACP and hamper the work being done if Dolezal remains as president.

A mistake must be acknowledged and apologized for before anyone can move forward, McClure said.

“I believe the community wants to forgive her, but first she has to come clean,” she said. “People just want the truth.”

McClure said that after she posted the online petition Friday she received a text from Dolezal that said, in part, “Please don’t contribute to the drama.”

She also received a text uninviting her to Monday’s NAACP meeting just before 1:30 a.m. Saturday, McClure said.

The Rev. Happy Watkins, a former president of the Spokane NAACP and co-founder of Spokane’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, said he has no problem with Dolezal remaining the head of the local NAACP chapter.

“She became president because she ran against James Wilburn and won,” he said, referring to the branch’s former president who was defeated in an election last year. “She didn’t run on a black issue or a white issue.”

Watkins said he has not spoken to Dolezal since last Sunday and doesn’t know why she has been saying she is black.

“I think she’s going to clear it up on Monday, the reason why she declared she was African American,” he said. “We don’t know what the story is.”

Staff editor Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.

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