A police video of the July 4 arrests in Riverfront Park shows no evidence of criminal behavior by protesters before arrests began, a city attorney’s review of the incident says.
In a report delivered Monday to Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession, City Attorney Jim Craven said his review of video shot by a police officer does not depict events described in police reports written after 17 people were arrested in the park. That video apparently only shows part of the interaction between police and protesters, not the entire event.
“It does not show an assault on an officer,” Craven wrote. “It does not show any obviously criminal behavior on the part of anyone, other than resisting arrest once the trouble started.”
Craven said the incident would be appropriate for review by an ombudsman if the city had one. Hession has said he supports hiring such a person, but it must first be negotiated with the police union after the current contract talks conclude.
In a meeting earlier in the day, Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick also said the controversial incident would be appropriate for review by an ombudsman. Because it does not yet have such a system, Kirkpatrick told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee that she reviewed police reports and talked with officers on the scene. “I’m at least telling you what I know,” she said.
She said protesters were arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct and refusing to disperse – laws she said they broke in front of officers.
“If there was no crime, we have no authority or power to make arrests,” Kirkpatrick said.
But while officer reports written after the arrests detail some of those activities, the evidence of those crimes is not on the police video, Craven wrote in his report to the mayor.
In their written reports, police said one of the protesters, Zach St. John, assaulted Officer Jay Kernkamp by grabbing him around the throat and was arrested.
St. John has pleaded not guilty to assault. Other demonstrators have said that a police officer knocked St. John off a bucket he was seated on and that St. John then approached the officer to ask why and was arrested.
Craven said neither the police video nor photos he reviewed on The Spokesman-Review Web site or other Internet sites show a “physical altercation,” between Kernkamp and St. John.
There are photos and video of people standing and sitting on a large American flag, which protesters had spread on the ground like a picnic blanket.
“It is reported that many holiday celebrants were very offended by this use of the flag and made their feelings known to demonstrators and to the police,” he wrote.
Clear Channel Communications had a “non-exclusive license” to use the park on that day, Craven wrote, and the protesters had set up for their picnic near a stage where the company was offering entertainment. But the Parks Department hadn’t charged a fee for the license, and Clear Channel and the city shared security responsibilities, he added.
Kirkpatrick said other people participating in July Fourth celebrations in the park had complained to officers about disrespect for the flag, as well as cursing and yelling.
“It appeared that participants were about to take action on their own,” she said.
Witnesses also told officers that protesters were putting stickers that said “Kill a cop” on poles in the park, a message that she finds particularly offensive after losing officers in the line of duty.
Protesters have denied having such stickers, but on Monday police released a photo from their evidence room of items seized in the park, which include an apparently handmade sign about the size of a bumper sticker with the slogan “Kill a Cop” and a heart at the end.
About a half-dozen protesters, including St. John, were present for the Public Safety Committee meeting and tried to break in when Kirkpatrick read part of a police report of his arrest.
But council Chairman Joe Shogan cut them off, saying the Public Safety Committee didn’t take public testimony. For that they should attend the forum at the City Council, he said.
After the meeting, however, Kirkpatrick introduced herself to all the protesters and shook their hands.
Some stayed to talk, but others left angry that they hadn’t been allowed to challenge the police descriptions of the incident.