Spokane police Chief Roger Bragdon has been cleared of any wrongdoing for the dismissal of a traffic ticket issued to the son-in-law of former Spokane County Prosecutor Don Brockett.
The investigation, conducted by Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch, concluded that Brockett was correct when he claimed the officer who wrote the traffic ticket lacked sufficient evidence to issue the citation, and that Bragdon had the authority under those circumstances to dismiss it.
But city officials disagreed Thursday with the former prosecutor’s contention that the ticket was the result of a faulty departmental practice of citing all motorists involved in rear-end crashes and letting judges assign blame.
The investigation was launched in late January based on a complaint filed by the Spokane Police Guild after Bragdon ordered that a ticket be dismissed against Brockett’s son-in-law, Allan Margitan.
“I find the complaint lodged by the Guild to be without merit and will recommend that no disciplinary or other action be taken against Chief Bragdon,” Lynch wrote in the Feb. 17 letter.
The ticket against Margitan was dismissed about three weeks after a June 30 crash at the intersection of Francis Avenue and F Street, Brockett said.
“I expected it to come out this way,” Brockett said Thursday. “This was a ticket that shouldn’t have been issued in the first place.”
Off-duty Spokane police Officer John Smith was driving a white sedan June 30 when he approached a line of vehicles waiting to turn left. Smith did not stop in time and crashed into the back of Margitan’s Chevy pickup. The impact forced Margitan’s truck forward into a red car that was also stopped in traffic, Brockett said in a previous interview.
Smith received a citation for following too closely, and Margitan was cited for defective taillights. Brockett, who served as county prosecutor from 1969 to 1994, said he called Bragdon and personally asked the chief to dismiss the ticket against his son-in-law.
Brockett argued that Margitan was stopped on level pavement and he couldn’t understand how Margitan could have been at fault. Brockett said Bragdon looked into the matter and discovered that patrol officers had been automatically issuing tickets for defective equipment to the drivers of cars that got rear-ended. The officers were letting local judges sort it out.
Brockett said Bragdon told him that once he discovered this practice, he put a stop to it.
But in his review, Lynch didn’t mention any change in policy.
“In the case at hand, the actions of the Chief were both appropriate and part of a necessary review of the incident given the complaint made to him,” Lynch wrote in the letter. “The recommendation and subsequent dismissal of charges against the party in question were proper and lawful.”
Lynch didn’t return a phone call seeking comment, but he had city spokeswoman Marlene Feist answer questions. She also spoke to Bragdon, who was at home and on vacation Thursday, she said.
“This was really an isolated incident,” Feist said. “However, the Police Department did go through their records to see if there were other similar cases. And they couldn’t find other incidents like this.”
“So, there hasn’t been any kind of new directive to the patrol officers, because what they are currently using is working just fine.”
Brockett said he doesn’t understand how that research could find no other cases of tickets issued to drivers who have been rear-ended.
“That does seem strange,” Brockett said of Feist’s response. “I’m sure there were other accidents like my son-in-law’s … where they were given a ticket for defective equipment.”
Brockett said he was so sure because the same thing happened to another relative about six or eight months before the June 30 collision.
After talking to Bragdon again Thursday, Feist said: “I’m not sure where Don got his misimpression. But the chief said they did look back and did research into past tickets and did not find any pattern to find this was happening a lot.”
Brockett said officers should only write tickets when they have sufficient evidence to suggest a driver did something wrong. Those tickets often remain on drivers’ records, leading to higher insurance bills, he said.
“All I can do is tell you what he told me,” Brockett said of his conversation with Bragdon. Asked if there was a chance that he misunderstood what the chief said, Brockett replied: “Not at all.”
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