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Playing the Ozzie card

A chosen tactic of outgoing leaders in the Spokane Police Department: talk highly about the sheriff’s plan for regionalizing police forces.

Documents recently released from last December’s investigation into reports that former Assistant Police Chief Scott Stephens had threatened to go “postal” after hearing of his impending demotion contain a line from a “confidante and friend” of Stephens describing the tactic.

In her account of Stephens’ behavior the day he’s alleged to have made the threats, Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said Stephens told her he “wanted to talk to Sheriff Knezovich about becoming his undersheriff. [Stephens] said he would push the sheriff for a regional agency and be a part of that team. (This was very similar to previous Chief Kirkpatrick’s ‘threats’ when she was leaving her position a year ago.)”

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, however, said it's news to him.

“I never had those conversations,” Knezovich said Thursday. “I feel honored that they felt that way, that they wouldn’t mind working for me. But I didn’t talk to them.”

For her part, former Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said in an email Thursday that as the department continued to lose credibility with the public over various misbehavior, she told officers that “if they did not start taking control of themselves … then a good argument could be made for the Sheriff's Office to take over the police department and become a regionalized force under the Sheriff and I would advocate for it.”

Kirkpatrick, now working as the chief deputy sheriff in King County, said she assumed this potential advocacy for regionalization “is the ‘threat’ Officer DeRuwe is referencing.”

Cost for Stephens’ investigation unknown

It remains unclear how much the city will pay a retired judge to investigate “circumstances” that led Police Chief Frank Straub to place his assistant chief on paid administrative leave.

Assistant Police Chief Scott Stephens was placed on leave by Straub in December. City officials have declined to say what led to the action, saying it’s a personnel issue that can’t yet be discussed publicly. Stephens’ attorney, Bob Dunn, said this week that Straub placed Stephens on leave after he was accused of threatening work place violence in a private conversation with a friend who works within the department after Stephens had been told that he would be demoted.

Mayor David Condon announced on Monday that retired U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan, of Oregon, would perform the city’s Internal Affairs investigation into Stephens instead of city employees.

Hogan started work on the investigation this week, but there is not yet a final agreement on how much Hogan will be paid, said city spokesman Brian Coddington. He is expected to work on the investigation for about a month.

Chief OKs probe into alleged misconduct

Spokane County Jail inmate Justin Anest is pictured in 2006. He filed a federal civil rights lawsuit for a 2004 beating in the county jail. He claims to have been beaten again over the weekend in September 2006. The lawsuit was dismissed. Anest filed the complant that led to the dispute between the ombdusman and interim police chief. (SRarchives)

A disagreement between the interim Spokane police chief and the ombudsman about how a police misconduct allegation should be investigated has been resolved after witnesses came forward with new information.

A meeting scheduled last Friday between Interim Chief Scott Stephens, Ombudsman Tim Burns and Mayor David Condon never happened because Stephens informed Condon of his intention to investigate the accusation that police bruised a woman’s arms while handcuffing her at her home in early April.

Read the rest of my story here, which includes comment from the complanient, Justin Anest, and information on his background.

Guild using cameras as bargaining chip

If city leaders want body cameras to become a standard part of the Spokane Police Department uniform, they’ll have to first work through what the city’s top cop says could be the key hindrance: Spokane police officers.

The Spokane Police Guild is using the city’s proposal as a key bargaining chip in their latest contract negotiations, which recently began, Interim Chief Scott Stephens told the city’s Public Safety Committee this week.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

March 21: Law agencies see benefit of cameras

SPD ombudsman dispute going to mayor

A disagreement between the interim Spokane police chief and the police ombudsman about the handling of a recent complaint is getting the mayor’s attention.

 Ombudsman Tim Burns is asking Mayor David Condon to force the Spokane Police Department to investigate a complaint that arose when officers responded to a report of possible domestic violence at a home in the city.

Read the rest of my story here.

A look at Spokane police use of force

To understand why the Spokane Police Department’s use-of-force training is under a microscope, consider this disconnect: Although the state’s top police trainer concluded that the fatal 2006 confrontation with unarmed janitor Otto Zehm was indefensible, the department’s own instructors and the city’s legal advisers have insisted that Spokane police officers were justified and handled the encounter appropriately.

 Here is how Spokane police Officer Terry Preuninger, a department training instructor (pictured), defended Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr.’s decision to beat and shock the retreating Zehm: “If the officer believes that they were in danger, then that use of force would be authorized,” Preuninger told a federal jury in October, adding that there doesn’t have to be a “factual basis” for the officer’s fear of harm.

Read the rest of the story here.

Also check out this profile on new interim police chief Scott Stephens.

Stephens named interim police chief

(Top) Scott Stephens takes questions after Mayor David Condon names him the interim police chief at a press conference Tuesday. (Bottom right) Former Spokane police Chief Roger Bragdon, right, and Lt. Joe Walker, center, listen during a press conference where Condon, far left, appointed Stephens. (SRphotos/Christopher Anderson)

A 26-year veteran of the Spokane Police Department will lead the troubled agency, at least for the next few months.

On his first business day as Spokane’s mayor, David Condon appointed Major Scott Stephens interim police chief, and announced plans to review the department’s use-of-force policies and training.

Stephens replaces Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, who retired effective Monday, at a time of low morale and deep division within the department.

Read the rest of Jon Brunt's story here.

Stephens leading police department — at least until 1 p.m.

Spokane Mayor David Condon confirmed this morning that he will name his selection for interim police chief at a news conference at 1 p.m.

The current acting chief, Scott Stephens, declined to say if he will still be chief by the end of the day in a brief interview after he left a meeting at City Hall this morning.

Condon said last week that Stephens would be acting chief “through the weekend.” Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick's retired effective Jan. 2.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has requested the position in hopes that the city would consider contracting with his department. Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner started a national search for a new chief with Condon's blessing.

The interim chief will inherit significant obstacles, including the possibility of other officers facing federal criminal charges related to the handling of the Otto Zehm matter, low morale and recent budget cuts.

Stephens named acting police chief but only through weekend

Mayor-elect David Condon said today that Acting Assistant Police Chief Scott Stephens will lead the Spokane Police Department, but his appointment so far is extremely temporary.

Condon, who will become mayor at midnight on Jan. 1, said he has agreed to have Stephens lead the department “through the weekend.”

Stephens was a major in the department under retiring Chief Anne Kirkpatrick until Kirkpatrick named him acting assistant chief this fall after Assistant Chief Jim Nicks went on sick leave.