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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

When Inouye came to Spokane

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and David SoHappy Sr., at Geiger Corrections Center on March 6, 1988 (Dan Pelle)
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and David SoHappy Sr., at Geiger Corrections Center on March 6, 1988 (Dan Pelle)

Inouye and David SoHappy Sr., at Geiger Corrections Center in March 1988. Spokesman-Review photo by Dan Pelle.

The passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye this week generated some memories from long-time Democrat Tom Keefe, who reminded Spin Control of the time the Hawaiian senator came to Spokane in 1988 and made a trip to Geiger Corrections Center. 

We'll let Keefe tell the story:


On March 6, 1988  Inouye of Hawaii, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, visited with David Sohappy and his son, David, Jr., following their acquittal in Yakama Tribal Court of all charges related to the federal/state “Salmonscam” sting operation that occurred on the fall of 1981 and the spring of 1982 along the Columbia River.  Following their conviction in federal court in Los Angeles, the Sohappys were each sentenced to serve five years in federal prison for selling their own salmon (David, Sr. was convicted of selling 317, David, Jr. to selling 28) to undercover federal agents.  The first photo was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in newspapers nationwide.

As our visit was ending, David and his son stood on each side of Senator Inouye, David, Sr. facing him.  They began to slowly sing a sacred Feather Religion song, passing their hands through the air above and around the senator, who stood with head bowed in silent reflection.  When they finished, he thanked them both.

Before coming to Spokane, Senator Inouye asked me to provide him with standard sentencing ranges under Washington State law for a variety of crimes (burglary, child abuse, bank robbery, etc.) for which David and his son would have received lesser prison sentences. He calmly and deliberately listed those offenses for the gathered press as we departed the prison yard, and thereby highlighted the disproportionality of what had occurred.  Senator Inouye continued to carry that message to Indian Country and to the White House until the Sohappys were released. Without his intervention, David would have likely died in prison.

Senator Inouye’s last words to David at the prison gate were, “Don’t give up.  The next time we meet again I hope it is at your home at Cooks Landing”.  When David Sohappy passed away, Senator Inouye sent a personal note of condolence to the Sohappy family.

The federal “Salmonscam” and subsequent search for justice for David Sohappy proved to be the final great battle of the “Indian wars” over treaty fishing rights that had plagued the Pacific Northwest and the State of Washington for over a century.  Thanks largely to the courage of Senator Daniel Inouye, that sad chapter in our state’s history was finally closed.  

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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