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Saturday, April 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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STA stabbing suspect released on earlier charges

The homicide suspect in a fatal downtown stabbing on Saturday left jail last month after Spokane police did not file paperwork needed to hold him on a separate incident.

Donald Phillips was arrested May 7 facing charges of attempted burglary, drug possession and harassment – one week after finishing a seven-year prison sentence for robbing and kidnapping a Spokane man. Phillips received a bond of $50,000 in the May 7 case and was scheduled to answer those charges May 20 in a Spokane courtroom.

Police investigators did not submit a charging recommendation to prosecutors within the required three-day window to ensure he stayed in jail on the bond. They also did not forward charges while Phillips was in the Benton County Jail for 10 days starting May 13 on a parole violation.

Because the recommendation wasn’t provided to prosecutors, the bond on the drug, burglary and harassment charges was waived, Spokane County Jail Director John McGrath said this week.

Police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said Thursday the department still is looking into the sequence of events that led to Phillips’ release.

“Typically, cases such as this would be referred in three days, but not always,” Cotton said.

Phillips is the sole suspect in the fatal stabbing of 49-year-old Sean Oie at the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza on Saturday. He faces a charge of first-degree murder after confessing to police he jabbed a folding knife into Oie’s chest over a dispute about drugs, according to court documents. The incident was captured on surveillance cameras and launched an hourslong manhunt through Peaceful Valley that ended in his capture. He is in custody of the Spokane County Jail on $500,000 bond.

Police prepared a probable cause statement in the May 7 attempted burglary that was read at Phillips’ first court appearance the following day – but that information, prosecutors say, is not typically enough to file charges. Police investigators usually provide a packet that includes witness interviews, forensic evidence and other items in addition to the probable cause statement before charges are filed, said Spokane Deputy Prosecutor Shane Smith.

Phillips, 40, approached a pregnant woman at an apartment complex off Division Street asking to use the telephone, according to investigators. Phillips then refused to leave and was pepper-sprayed by the woman and her boyfriend, prompting a threat from Phillips to kill the couple, according to court documents.

Two officers arrived on scene, and one attempted to fire his stun gun at Phillips, but it malfunctioned, according to court documents. However, Phillips “stiffened up” as though he’d been struck, and fell down some stairs before he was handcuffed, police said. They found methamphetamine and what appeared to be marijuana in his socks, according to court documents.

A judge noted Phillips’ lengthy criminal history as well as his recent prison sentence before setting his bond. Phillips then returned to jail. At that point, a 72-hour countdown began, during which prosecutors must file a charge, according to state law, or the defendant is to be released and bail dropped.

On May 13, Phillips was sent to the Benton County Detention Center in Kennewick under order of the Department of Corrections for failing to check in with probation officers after his April 30 release, according to jail records.

He left custody there May 23, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Norah West said. By May 27, he’d once again failed to check in and another statewide warrant was issued for his arrest, she said.

Smith, the deputy prosecutor in charge of property and drug-related crimes, said it’s “not uncommon” for the 72-hour window to pass without the police providing a charging recommendation, especially if the investigation is complicated. “We also make 72 hours all the time,” Smith said.

Once that recommendation is made, the conditions allowing release become permanent pending a resolution of the case or a modification approved by a judge. Within a span of usually less than two weeks, a defendant enters a plea on the charges at a scheduled arraignment.

Phillips’ arraignment was slated for May 20. A deputy prosecutor was never assigned to the case, according to court records. The hearing was canceled when Phillips failed to appear because of his detention in Kennewick.

Cotton said the investigation into the burglary incident is ongoing. Phillips had not been formally charged in that matter as of Thursday.

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