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Feds nearing end of pot legalization review

The U.S. Justice Department reportedly is nearing the end of its review of Washington and Colorado's new laws legalizing marijuana and could be announcing soon how it will respond.

The issue is that while voters in Washington and Colorado have legalized pot under state laws, it remains illegal under federal law.

Attorney General Eric Holder told a meeting of state attorneys general he is examining policy options and international implications of the issue, The Associated Press reported today.

Holder's assessment could result in the federal government suing the states over the new laws, the wire service said. Alternatively, Holder could decide not to mount a court challenge. The Justice Department examination has been under way since shortly after last fall's elections. Washington and Colorado became the first states to pass laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

State and local authorities have said they're hoping to get some sense of how the federal government will respond to voters' wishes before spending a lot of time and effort developing regulatory systems to control production and sale of legal pot.

Feds hint at broader problems with SPD

Could a broader federal probe of the Spokane Police Department be under way?

Although U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby joined other community leaders Wednesday in cautioning against drawing too many conclusions from the excessive force conviction of Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., indications are growing that federal authorites are troubled by what they found here.

The U.S. Justice Department, on its homepage today, openly describes the case against Thompson as involving "an extensive cover up" following the fatal March 18, 2006 confrontation. In its news release announcing Thompson's conviction on charges of using excessive force in the beating of unarmed janitor Otto Zehm and lying about it to investigators, the agency noted that, "Thompson claimed the beating was justified because he felt threatened by a plastic bottle of soda the victim was holding."

Federal authorities confirm that at least one additional Spokane police officer - Sandy McIntyre - has received a target letter stemming from the Zehm fatality. Target letters indicate evidence is being presented to a grand jury that could lead to indictment against the recipients.

Additionally, Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said Wednesday that potential internal investigations against other officers over their handling of the Zehm tragedy won't be considered until federal authorities have notified her that their investigations are done, which hasn't happened yet.

Tom Rice nominated for federal judgeship

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice was nominated today by President Barack Obama for a federal judgeship in Spokane.

Rice, a 1986 magna cum laude graduate of Gonzaga School of Law, was among two judicial nominees announced by the White House Wednesday. The other is David Nuffer, a magistrate nominated for a judgeship in Utah.

“I am honored to nominate these distinguished individuals to serve on the United States District Court bench,” Obama said in prepared remarks. “They have both demonstrated an unwavering commitment to justice throughout their careers, and I am confident they will continue to serve the American people with integrity.”

Both will face Senate confirmation proceedings.

Rice will fill the judicial seat left vacant by the retirement of Judge Robert Whaley. Other lawyers from Eastern Washington considered for the nomination were Les Weatherhead of Spokane and Stanley Bastian of Wenatchee.

Rice has served as a federal prosecutor in Spokane since 1987. He previously served as a trial attorney in the Tax Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

Past coverage:

April 16: Nomination nears for federal judge

DOJ launches probe of Seattle police

SEATTLE (AP) — The Justice Department today launched a formal civil rights investigation of the Seattle Police Department following the fatal shooting of a homeless woodcarver and other incidents of force used against minority suspects.

Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and the assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Thomas E. Perez, held a conference call Thursday morning to discuss the investigation. Durkan previously said her office was reviewing the Seattle Police Department's actions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and 34 other community groups called for the inquiry after a Seattle officer shot and killed Native American woodcarver John T. Williams after he crossed a street downtown. The officer who shot Williams, Ian Birk, resigned from the force but was not charged criminally.

Other incidents captured on surveillance or police-cruiser video include officers using racial slurs and stomping on a prone Latino man; an officer kicking a non-resisting black youth in a convenience store; and officers tackling and kicking a black man who showed up in a police evidence room to pick up belongings after he was mistakenly released from jail.

ACLU of Washington spokesman Doug Honig welcomed the announcement.

"We think the DOJ has a lot of experience and expertise in dealing with situations like this around the country," he said. "Our hope is that they can make recommendations that will help the city of Seattle curtail the use of excessive force in the future."