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Doug Clark: Just blame our biggest drawback

Hear ye. Hear ye. The Column is now in session, and we have three items on today’s docket.

•Item 1 – So suspended Spokane police officer Jay Olsen was acquitted for shooting Shonto Pete in the head after a wild chase through dark city streets two years ago.

I was sitting in Superior Court on Friday when the decision was delivered. What a relief. I was under the misguided assumption that the law took a jaundiced view of people who get liquored up and engage in gunplay.

It’s good to finally have the matter cleared up.

Olsen was off duty when he blasted five shots on an embankment near Peaceful Valley. Prior to the excitement, he had been drinking with a friend in a downtown gay bar.

Olsen claims Pete tried to steal his pickup some time after he left the club. That’s why he pursued Pete and later sprayed lead at the man when Pete supposedly made two threatening moves on him.

The jury agreed. Go figure.

But Pete was acquitted of stealing Olsen’s truck in a separate trial. And now Olsen has been acquitted for shooting Pete.

Hmm. It’s as if the whole ugly incident never really happened.

So let me be the first to say  …

Never mind.

•Item 2 – The author of a letter to the editor that appeared earlier this week has anointed me with a new title.

“Spokane’s biggest drawback.”

(Note: This is why you need to take the paper every day and not just on weekends. You miss out on all sorts of important news, and this is a prime example.)

I’m beyond flattered. I’ve devoted 25 years to probing Spokane’s pale, soft underbelly, trying to assess what was holding my hometown down.

And now we know. It’s not the potholes. It’s not the downtown sidewalk urinators.

It’s not even the Gypsy Curse.

It’s me – the SBD.

“Gee, Doug, I never realized you were such a powerful man,” observed Joe in an e-mail.

“I never knew you had that much juice!!!” added Ken, in another.

Well, now you all know. And as any radio talk show therapist will tell you, identifying the problem is the first step on the Road to Recovery.

So I accept full responsibility.

It’s all my fault.

Of course, being the civic pariah does have a built-in advantage.

Think about it. When things pick up around here you’ll only have me to thank.

•Item 3 – Wednesday marks the third anniversary of Otto Zehm’s violent and unnecessary encounter with Spokane police. The mentally ill janitor died two days later. No justice has been done.

My campaign to distribute “Otto” buttons to remember this innocent victim is nearing an end. But what an overwhelming response.

So far, 1,159 buttons have been sent out via the mail.

Another 150 or so have been handed out. That leaves me with about 200 buttons from the 1,500 I had made.

I’ll be giving these away personally this week, until they are gone.

But this doesn’t have to be the end of the Otto button campaign.

Anyone can pick up the torch by ordering batches of Otto buttons from Button Up at:

I want to thank everybody who got involved. The concern you expressed for Otto in e-mails and phone messages was deeply touching.

“I read your article and could not believe how quickly time passes, and even more incredible is that nobody was so much as even reprimanded,” wrote Raeann. “It is insane to think something so tragic and incredible could have taken place.

“We need an outcry!”

So wear your buttons with pride. And share Otto’s story with anyone who asks.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at