In front of a courtroom full of family, friends and a few Spokane police officers, a judge threw out two criminal charges that the former president of the Spokane Police Guild tipped off a fellow officer suspected of sexually assaulting another officer during a booze-fueled party last year.
Prosecutors had charged Sgt. John Gately in December with two felony counts of rendering criminal assistance to Gordon Ennis, a police sergeant accused of raping a fellow officer at a party last fall. Gately, who sat quietly during the hearing, appeared relieved as he embraced his wife after the ruling.
Gately, who is no longer serving as the police union president, still faces a trial on the less serious misdemeanor charge of obstructing a law enforcement officer following the ruling Friday by Superior Court Judge John O. Cooney. That trial is scheduled to begin April 21.
Friday’s ruling clears the way for Gately to receive nearly four months of back pay for the time he has spent on unpaid leave. City spokesman Brian Coddington said the unpaid leave was related only to the felony charges. In 2014, Gately earned about $151,000, so he could be eligible for more than $37,000 in back pay.
Gately’s attorney, David Allen, filed a motion last week to dismiss the charges, arguing that Gately did not prevent police from apprehending Ennis.
The case concerned two phone calls Gately made to Ennis in the days following the alleged rape and before Ennis was arrested. The assistant police chief at the time told investigators he notified Gately about the incident so Gately could provide assistance to the victim – a new female police officer and guild member – as part of the department’s Personnel Assistance Team, according to court records.
In the first call, Gately told Ennis not to make any statements about the alleged crime except in an official capacity.
In the second, Gately told Ennis detectives were coming to execute a search warrant. Immediately after that call, Ennis hired attorney Rob Cossey, who contacted investigators from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office to coordinate the search warrant. When detectives arrived to serve the warrant, they found Ennis’ nails were freshly trimmed, which prevented them from collecting trace DNA evidence.
During the Friday hearing, Allen did not dispute that Gately made the calls or intended to help Ennis, but he said prosecutors “grossly overcharged” the case.
Prosecutors charged Gately under the section of the law prohibiting warning a suspect of “impending discovery or apprehension” and concealing, altering or destroying physical evidence. Allen’s argument hinged largely on the definition of apprehension, saying investigators had no issue identifying Ennis as the suspect in the rape case or locating him.
“They seem to be conflating the words discovery and apprehension with lodging criminal charges,” he said.
Prosecutor Stefanie Collins made an impassioned argument for Gately’s guilt that drew murmurs of disbelief and guffaws from many of Gately’s supporters in the audience. She told the judge Gately was “called in to help the victim but he abandoned her, sided himself with the rapist.”
“When this man told the rape suspect that a search warrant was coming, he was warning him he was going to be apprehended,” Collins said, pointing at Gately.
She also likened Gately’s call to Ennis as a warning to get rid of evidence.
“You can almost hear the dope being flushed down the toilet,” the prosecutor said.
One off-duty police officer who attended the hearing to support Gately made motions to suggest the prosecutor was grasping at straws to make her case.
When making his ruling, Cooney said the law’s definition of apprehension was not intended to cover seizure, as in the case of a search warrant. He agreed with Allen’s argument that the state failed to prove Gately warned Ennis of impending apprehension.
“I’m very, very pleased with the judge’s decision,” Allen said.
No on-duty officers attended the hearing other than Maj. Justin Lundgren, who oversees Internal Affairs. Lundgren will conduct an internal investigation to see whether Gately violated any department policies once the misdemeanor criminal case is concluded.
Assistant Chief Craig Meidl said he planned to sit down with police administration on Monday to review the remaining misdemeanor charge against Gately and decide whether he could return to work. At minimum, Gately would be on paid leave pending the outcome of the case, Meidl said.
If Gately is convicted on the misdemeanor charge, that would make him a Brady officer, meaning prosecutors in any criminal cases Gately worked on would be required to notify defenders that Gately’s credibility has been called into question. If Gately does return to duty, Meidl said he’d be assigned to do something other than work cases until the criminal charges against him are resolved.
“We don’t want to put him in a position where he’s working cases that would eventually go to court,” Meidl said.
Acknowledging that the dismissal was likely to damage public trust in the department, Meidl said he planned to be “as transparent with the public as we possibly can be” during the internal investigation into Gately’s conduct.
“This is definitely one of those things that’s caused me concern, and I think it’s caused much of the department concern as well,” Meidl said.