The top choice to be the next Spokane police ombudsman failed to get a visa allowing him to work in the United States, a development that could delay the hiring for many more months or force a new selection.
An expedited visa application for Raheel Humayun, the British Columbia resident who was offered the permanent job in November, was rejected last week.
At a meeting Monday night, ombudsman commissioners were divided on how much longer they were willing to wait. Eventually, they agreed to continue to pursue a visa for Humayun. In one scenario, even if he gets a visa he still wouldn’t be able to start work until October.
At least for now, the ombudsman’s office still is open for business, thanks to the commission’s decision to hire a temporary ombudsman.
For the past six weeks, interim ombudsman Bart Logue, a former diplomat and Marine Corps provost marshal who moved to Spokane last summer, has been working to “turn the lights on.”
That means getting an intern program running again, and re-establishing community contacts and operating procedures for the office.
Logue was appointed to a four-month interim term and initially was supposed to prepare the office for Humayun’s arrival.
After ombudsman commissioners decided to continue pursuing Humayun Monday evening, Logue suggested he will start looking for another job.
“If there’s not a hope for a job, I’m looking for another one,” he said. “If I can find that next week, I’m probably gone.”
But he added that if he gets hired for a different job, he would try to negotiate a late starting date to fill out his four-month ombudsman term.
Logue plans to work through the backlog of complaints created during the 13-month vacancy in the ombudsman’s office, reviewing more than 100 Internal Affairs investigations from 2015. Though many of those investigations are outside the 180-day window where officers can be disciplined, he said the review is still important.
“We’re still going to provide that oversight,” he said. “If nothing else, it’s going to be a training opportunity.”
Complaints submitted through the ombudsman’s office are now being posted online, along with information about the investigation.
Humayun, a Canadian citizen and investigator with the British Columbia Office of the Ombudsperson, was selected from among three finalists for the permanent job last fall. One of the other finalists was rejected for online comments about officer-involved shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement, and another was rejected following the results of an independent city investigation into his conduct as a supervisor with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Spokane applied for an expedited visa on Humayun’s behalf – which would have allowed him to come to the U.S. immediately – under the North American Free Trade Agreement. But it was rejected because the police ombudsman job was not a close enough fit for a temporary management consultant, one of the job categories which is allowed to receive the visa.
Commission Chairwoman Deb Conklin suggested tweaking Humayun’s visa application and having him apply again at the Canadian border, an action recommended by an immigration attorney who has consulted with the commission.
Ombudsman commissioners voted 4-1 to pursue that option.
The lone vote opposed came from Scott Richter, who said he would do “everything in his position” to help Logue get the job permanently.
He also questioned whether the community would accept a Canadian ombudsman.
“I have had nobody come up to me and say that they’re comfortable with a Canadian in this position,” Richter said.
The vote was closer when the commission considered whether it also would explore a second visa process that would require Humayun to apply by April 1 and enter a lottery. Humayun would know if he were successful by May 1, but even if he was selected, he couldn’t start work until October, Conklin said.
Commissioner Aaron VanderPol joined Richter in opposing the move. VanderPol argued the city can’t wait that long for a permanent ombudsman.
But a majority of commissioners said it was worth waiting until May 1 to find out if Humayun could get the job, considering all the effort made in the last several months to bring him aboard.
“I would like to see this through,” said Commissioner Ladd Smith.
Logue said his main hope is to let people know Spokane once again has a police ombudsman. He sees his role as a way to help build trust between citizens and the police department. That means making sure citizens are heard and also means highlighting when officers do their jobs well, he said.
“This office has to be about truth and also about care and compassion,” he said.
Logue believes many people who come into his office want to be listened to more than anything else. Internal Affairs investigations are designed to determine whether an officer violated department policy, but citizens who complain are often more interested in understanding why they had a negative experience in the first place.
“What’s important to me is what put this incident to the point where you wanted to take time out of your day to come get me involved in the process,” he said.
Sometimes, people have walked away without filing complaints after he’s spent an hour or more talking with them, he said.
Many people distrust the police department in Spokane and some serious issues have occurred recently, including the filing of felony charges against two sergeants in connection with a rape case, Logue said. But he’s found many people in the community who trust police and want to work with them, too.
“I don’t think we’re probably so far apart as I was led to believe when I took this job,” he said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter