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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Woman’s DNA recovered from seat belt in Spokane police sexual assault case

As new court documents spelled out the evidence against a Spokane police officer accused of sexual assault, the department’s acting chief said Thursday a committee will decide whether the accused officer will be shifted to unpaid leave while the criminal case is decided.

Chief Rick Dobrow also urged that the victim, a young officer on the force who has not returned to work since the alleged assault in late October, be at the forefront of peoples’ minds.

“This has to be absolutely devastating,” he said of the officer, who joined the department last year. “She can’t be forgotten about. We have tried to provide her the assistance that is appropriate.”

The court documents say investigators found the female officer’s DNA on the seat belt and parking brake of Officer Gordon Ennis’ car after the alleged assault took place. The female officer told investigators that she had never been in Ennis’ car and didn’t even know what kind of car he drives.

Ennis, the woman and several others attended a party hosted by fellow Officer Doug Strosahl on Oct. 24. The woman told investigators that she passed out after having several drinks and awoke in a guest bedroom early on Oct. 25 to find Ennis seated next to her with his hand down her pants, fondling her.

The woman told Strosahl what had happened to her before she left his home that day, according to court documents. Strosahl was investigated for possible evidence tampering because the borrowed clothing the woman was wearing at the time of the alleged assault was washed before being handed over to investigators.

However, Strosahl was cleared of wrongdoing after his fiancee told investigators that she washed the clothes when she cleaned the house before she heard about the alleged assault, according to the new court documents.

Strosahl still faces an internal affairs investigation into whether he violated department policies by failing to notify supervisors of the assault allegation when he first learned of it. But that investigation won’t be done immediately because Strosahl is still a witness in the ongoing criminal matter, said Dobrow, the acting police chief.

Strosahl, who was placed on paid administrative leave when the criminal investigation began, could be back at work as soon as Sunday, Dobrow said.

Ennis has also been on paid administrative leave since the incident. Dobrow said an ad hoc committee has been formed to decide whether Ennis will be placed on unpaid leave while the criminal case moves through the court. An internal investigation will not begin until the criminal case is over, Dobrow said.

Ennis turned himself in on a charge of second-degree rape at the Spokane County Jail around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Superior Court Judge Greg Sypolt had previously signed an order allowing Ennis to be immediately released on his own recognizance after he completed the booking process. Ennis was released 10 minutes after arriving at the jail. His next court appearance is scheduled for Monday.

The new court documents also contain details about the investigation into the actions of Spokane Police Guild President John Gately for allegedly tipping off Ennis about the investigation, which was conducted by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

Charges against Gately of first-degree rendering criminal assistance and obstructing a police officer have been referred to the prosecutor’s office and are under review.

Court documents indicate that the woman’s superior officer was notified of the alleged assault by a friend and fellow police officer whom the victim spoke to shortly after 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 25. Gately called Ennis at 8:49 p.m. that night and had a conversation that lasted a little over a minute, according to phone records. Gately called Ennis again at 11:36 a.m. on Oct. 26 and the two spoke for six minutes and 44 seconds.

Immediately after the second phone call, Ennis began sending text messages asking for attorney contact information and called several attorneys, according to court documents. Ennis’ attorney, Rob Cossey, called investigators at 12:16 p.m. to notify them that he was representing Ennis and detectives could come to his office to serve the search warrant for Ennis’ DNA and cellphone records, court documents say.

At that point in the investigation the search warrant was still being written and had not been filed, but the warrant had been discussed with police command staff, according to court documents.

Investigators wrote in court documents that when the search warrant was served, Ennis’ fingernails were extremely short and appeared freshly trimmed. This hindered the collection of evidence, investigators said.

Dobrow said he could not comment on the specifics of what Gately was told and when. But he said that Gately is on the department’s Personnel Assistance Team and is normally notified very early in the process of incidents involving police officers, such as in officer-involved shootings.

“Sometimes they are privy to information not available to the public,” he said.

If Gately was notified about the sexual assault accusation it would have been in his role as a member of the personnel assistance team, the chief said. In that case, Gately’s job would have been to assist the victim, not Ennis, Dobrow said.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who served as union president twice, said generally speaking a union president is not involved in a criminal investigation involving an officer or deputy. The president is not notified about any possible criminal charges until there’s no risk to the investigation, Knezovich said.

“We have conducted criminal investigations and the union never knew anything about it until the investigation was at the point that we had to contact the suspect,” he said. “Your job is not to warn any member of the criminal investigation, because you’re also a police officer.”

Knezovich said the police department’s personnel assistance team should not have been notified about the sexual assault allegation.

“We could have helped the victim,” he said. “They didn’t have to do anything. It’s just not a good idea to tell anyone about a criminal investigation, especially early on in the process.”

The normal job of a union president is to take part in interviews involving a police officer needing representation during an internal investigation, Knezovich said.

“As a union president, I would never get involved in a criminal case,” he said.

Dobrow said police department morale has suffered because of the case, as well as the accusations that former Chief Frank Straub sexually harassed a subordinate. He compared the ongoing criticism about the department to being repeatedly kicked in the shin.

“Some of it is deserved, but some of it is not,” he said.

Dobrow said his department is full of good and talented people and he’s trying not to let current events become a distraction to officers on the street.