Jurors will continue deliberations today to decide whether Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick “callously manipulated” her power to attack a 16-year department veteran, or showed strong leadership skills with a troubled employee when she fired a detective in 2007.
Jay Mehring, 43, claims he was wrongfully suspended without pay and defamed after he allegedly threatened to kill his wife during a messy divorce. After he was acquitted by a jury, he was reinstated but removed from a federal drug task force.
His lawyer, Bob Dunn, suggested to jurors in an hourlong closing argument before Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor on Thursday that damages could be calculated to include compensation for the number of years Mehring could have stayed with the task force, and for the “desperation and despair” of “being homeless” and relying on his friends for basic living needs.
He said jurors could punish Kirkpatrick for a mediocre performance as chief – he ranked her a 2 out of 5 – by awarding Mehring, figuratively, three-fifths of her pay, or $100,000 for each of the five years she’s been in Spokane.
Dunn said Kirkpatrick’s announcement to the press about Mehring’s arrest in March 2007 and his subsequent treatment jeopardized his undercover work with the drug task force.
“This case is about how power and authority and control were callously manipulated to orchestrate an attack on a longtime, 16-year police veteran who deserved far better than what he got at the hands of the defendant,” Dunn said. “This is a case about a game the city of Spokane and Kirkpatrick decided to play with the life of Jay Mehring.”
Dunn said Kirkpatrick used Mehring to try to showcase her leadership skills to help get her a job in a bigger city.
He reminded jurors of Kirkpatrick’s testimony about being a candidate for police chief in San Francisco and Seattle.
“She’s had no intention of making this city her home,” Dunn said. “She didn’t even buy a house here; she kept her home in Seattle.”
Dunn was so critical of Kirkpatrick, who sat in uniform at the defendant’s table, that her attorney, Milton Rowland, apologized when he began his closing argument.
“That was terrible,” Rowland said.
Rowland reminded jurors that, though Mehring was acquitted of a harassment charge, prosecutors still found enough evidence to charge him.
When Mehring was suspended without pay, Kirkpatrick – “this evil, malicious person” – told Spokane Police Guild President Ernie Wuthrich: “He needs friends. I want you to still be his friend,” Rowland added.
Rowland said the city is able to suspend employees without pay if they are charged with a felony, which happened to Mehring.
“A police officer who’s doing his job shouldn’t be committing felonies, or probable cause for a felony,” Rowland said. “(Kirkpatrick) didn’t create the news. The news was a natural consequence of the fact that these very serious things had happened.”
Kirkpatrick looked at the criminal case against Mehring after his acquittal in October 2008 and said “Holy cow! There’s a lot of evidence here,” Rowland said.
“We can’t go around making statements that people who live in our homes think are threats to kill them. We just can’t,” Rowland said. “This isn’t the bad old days. It’s just not.”
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