A courtroom confession by a hired killer, a change of beats to City Hall and a tumultuous presidential election will forever mark my 2016 in journalism. These are the stories I’ll never forget reporting in a year that saw many changes.
Rajeev Rajendra told Medical Oncology Associates he was a board-certified oncologist, but that wasn’t true. Following publication of this story, several patients of Ranjendra’s reached out to the newspaper to see if his dishonesty could have contributed to suffering by their loved ones. It also appears Medical Oncology Associates changed its name in the wake of this story. Also, my company car was pushed out of the snow in Rajendra’s neighborhood by some helpful teenagers. I won’t forget that.
I followed the James Henrikson/Doug Carlile murder-for-hire case since Carlile’s body was discovered on the South Hill just before Christmas in 2013. After withdrawing a guilty plea, Henrikson faced a jury trial, and the prosecution’s first witness was the man who pulled the trigger. Later, Timothy Suckow would address Carlile’s widow directly at his sentencing. But the first explanation of the murder from a sobbing and stooped Suckow is the image I’ll remember.
The brothers Arnold transformed a former Methodist church into a haven for the geeky and were kind enough to invite me in. The Ramones guitar, the blip of the Galaga machine and those lunchboxes on the wall made me feel right at home. I’m not sure the social justice cause ever took off, but the Jedi Alliance is a place to feel good about the nerd within.
For a few weeks in February and March, it seemed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz might be the one bearing the GOP’s mantle in the 2016 presidential election. That was certainly the consensus of those who traveled to the Kootenai County Fairgrounds on a cold and wet Saturday in March. As the first of several presidential candidates’ appearances in the Inland Northwest in 2016, Cruz’s was also memorable because hours later the Rev. Tim Remington, who delivered the invocation at the rally, was shot outside his Coeur d’Alene church in an unrelated incident.
I will personally remember 2016 as the year I started getting interested in vinyl. My record collection has soared to roughly 30 titles, thanks to the gift of friends, and when I wrote this piece for Record Store Day I was attempting to build my own system that now sits proudly on my desk at home. Getting out for a fun story now and then is key to avoiding a rut, both in reporting and writing, and this is just what the doctor ordered.
I was at Mootsy’s ordering a beer when I got a phone call from an East Coast number. Judy Noritake, a woman I hadn’t spoken to in a couple years, told me her nephew, Aaron Johnson, had once again been shot by police in Spokane. I instantly remembered the nights I spent in his room at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, discussing his paranoid beliefs that he was the Messiah and the CIA was out to get him. Much of the way the criminal justice system treats the mentally ill is shrouded in secrecy due to health care privacy laws. Johnson’s story should show the dangers of that.
Patricia Bayonne-Johnson grew up in the Catholic Church in Louisiana, unaware that her ancestor was sold by Jesuit priests to help repay the debts incurred by Georgetown University. The story made national news with articles in the New York Times and elsewhere, and the Spokane connection allowed me to tell the story of volunteer genealogists toiling away weekly at the public library.
For about half the year, the news at City Hall was dominated by a man who didn’t work there anymore. Frank Straub’s departure from the city prompted internal investigations and lawsuits. When a federal judge said Straub had willingly resigned and dismissed his $1 million claim against the city, the former police chief immediately announced an appeal that continues to work its way through the system.
Mayor Condon selects Assistant Chief Craig Meidl to lead Spokane Police Department (with Rachel Alexander; Aug. 1)
In the wake of the botched release of a report that implicated Mayor David Condon’s staff in the withholding of public documents, the embattled mayor surprised pretty much everyone in picking Craig Meidl to lead SPD. Subsequent outcry from the City Council and public required Meidl, who had not entered his name as a candidate, to go through another confirmation process that ended in his permanent installation. That warm summer morning on top of City Hall started it all.
Bookending the ongoing discontent between the city’s executive and legislative bodies was a decision from an out-of-county judge who dismissed David Green’s attempt to ask voters if Condon should be removed for his involvement in the Straub allegations. To date, the comity promised in the hours after the legal decision has persisted.
I’d never seen marijuana harvested before, only growing or in the stores. Following bud from plant to package was a surreal experience made all the more strange by the fact it was in a farm owned by a City Councilwoman.
Having one of the world’s most renowned video game developers as your neighbors to the north in Spokane is a strange thing. It’s even stranger to play something you watched being made. That’s exactly what I got to do late this year, traveling back to Mead to play some “Obduction” and chat with Rand Miller once again. I’ve done multiple stories on virtual reality gaming, but this one takes the cake as the most enjoyable thus far.