Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk said Tuesday that his office wasn’t trying to hide anything when he said 16 months ago that documents detailing allegations of sexual abuse against a former deputy had been shredded.
Sterk said the documents on former Deputy David Hahn weren’t found until recently because officials didn’t know where they were.
On Tuesday, Sterk sought to explain how sheriff’s officials found the documents, and also criticized The Spokesman-Review for its story about the discovery.
“I’m concerned about the way the article was written,” Sterk said. The Saturday story “would lead the community to believe I was trying to hide something, and it’s just not true.
“It has not been my practice as your sheriff for seven years to hide anything from the community. It’s just the opposite,” Sterk said during his regular quarterly media briefing at the Public Safety Building.
On Tuesday, newspaper attorney Duane Swinton sent Sterk a letter requesting Spokane County pay $50 for each of the 844 days that the Sheriff’s Office failed to release the public records after they were requested by the newspaper.
“It seems self-evident that the county has acted neither promptly nor thoroughly concerning the public records request filed by (reporter) Bill Morlin on January 23, 2003,” Swinton wrote. “Whether the public agency acted in good faith concerning the non-release of the records is irrelevant to the award of the daily fee.”
The documents on Hahn were made public on Friday by Sterk and county attorney James Emacio. After the records were first requested by The Spokesman-Review in January 2003, Sterk said the files were “shredded” as part of routine housecleaning after Hahn’s death.
Hahn, a Vietnam War veteran and Boy Scout leader, killed himself in 1981 amid allegations of pedophilia.
Sterk said he remembers talking in 2003 with Morlin, who “asked if we had any records of that investigation” into Hahn. “We did due diligence and searched our records for anything that might have been related to the Hahn case,” Sterk said.
The combined city-county Records Division responded to the newspaper’s written request by only providing a brief report on Hahn’s suicide.
As part of the request, Sterk said Lt. Greg Conner first looked for criminal reports relating to Hahn and found none. Sterk said sheriff’s officials then asked former Sheriff Larry Erickson in 2003 for clues about where to look for files involving Hahn.
“He said, ‘If they existed, they would be in the administration files,’ ” Sterk recounted Erickson saying. “So we went there and there weren’t any records.”
Conner said state law allows the Sheriff’s Office to purge personnel records after a few years.
“So, Mr. Morlin was advised that we no longer had Mr. Hahn’s personnel files,” Sterk said.
But sometime in the last 16 months, a deputy was cleaning a secure room in the basement of the Public Safety Building called “the range” where the range master cleans and repairs weapons and stores ammunition.
Inside “the range,” the deputy found a cardboard box full of old lawsuits and claims against the Sheriff’s Office from 1984 to 1995. The deputy moved the box – the only one in the room that contained files – upstairs to the top shelf of a supply closet.
On April 21, an administrative assistant found the box and saw the word “Hahn” handwritten on a manila folder containing 49 pages of reports. Conner worked with prosecutors to determine what information from the reports could be released, sheriff’s spokesman Cpl. Dave Reagan said.
After the newspaper renewed its 2003 request, the file was released to the public on May 27 with several names redacted.
The documents, which shed some light on the way the Sheriff’s Office handled the allegations against Hahn, show that the deputy was investigated three separate times. The file also includes a claim filed in 1984 against Spokane County for Hahn’s alleged abuse of Brett Galliher.
Galliher and his brother Robert are among four men now suing the county over Hahn’s alleged actions.
Although West was not named in the 49-page file released last week, he is accused of molestation during the late 1970s and early 1980s by Robert Galliher and another man, Michael G. Grant Jr.
West has denied the allegations.
The Galliher lawsuit against the county recently prompted sheriff’s officials to resume the search for Hahn’s files, Sterk said Tuesday.
“We would have never dreamed, none of my staff, would have ever dreamed that the Hahn file would have been placed in that box,” Sterk said. “And it indeed contained what little investigative reports were done into the Hahn case by (the) Sheriff Larry Erickson administration.”
Sterk blamed Erickson for misplacing the Hahn file.
“In those days, when the Sheriff’s Office was doing this, they didn’t file these (Hahn reports) in records. They filed them in personnel files,” Sterk said. “Like Jim West, the prior sheriff’s administration must stand the scrutiny of their actions on their own. It’s not fair to lump me and my administration with the prior administration that we are not responsible for.”
Sterk said the supply closet had been searched in 2003, but he doubts anyone searched “the range” in the basement for the Hahn files.
“We were looking for an investigative file,” Sterk said. “There would be no reason for an investigative file to be down there.”
Efforts to reach Erickson were unsuccessful Tuesday.
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