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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Clark: Rachel Dolezal mess taints Police Ombudsman Commission

So here we are, less than a year away from the 10th anniversary of that March day when a citizen died because he went into a convenience store for some diet soda and a Snickers bar.

And one of the only real positives that came out of Otto Zehm’s ultimately fatal encounter with an abusive Spokane cop – the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission – is now awash in scandal.

Welcome to the latest chapter in the bizarre saga of Rachel Dolezal, the racially confused loon who was appointed to the ombudsman commission last August by the mayor.

Nice one.

Aw, I won’t be too tough. I probably would have fallen for Dolezal’s charade, too.

I’m just trying to muster up some vitriol when all I’m feeling right now is very, very sad.

And asking myself …

Did Otto die in vain?

Sure looks that way.

The ugly news hit Wednesday.

Mayor David Condon, with Council President Ben Stuckart at his side, called for Dolezal and two of her commission cronies to resign due to a litany of alleged improprieties.

The accusations include trying to steamroll others on the commission, leaking information, showing bias that threatened the commission’s impartiality, altering meeting minutes and concealing vote counts to imply unanimity.

What a reeking, stinking mess.

The charges are outlined in a city investigation that came from a whistleblower complaint – a helluva read if you like grim news.

One of my pals suggested that someone should name a storm Hurricane Rachel, what with all the chaos Dolezal’s caused.

I don’t know about that, but I’d be willing to toss in the first 100 bucks in the “Keep Rachel Dolezal Permanently Out of Spokane Fund.”

Dolezal by now should be famous to one and all.

She was the local NAACP president who quit the post after being caught lying about, of all things, being black.

She still won’t come clean, but all rational evidence proves Donezal’s whiter than Ivory soap.

Add in the fact that she told lawyers she was white in a lawsuit at Howard University.

But logic aside, Dolezal’s racial-outing and weird responses have turned her into a media sensation. She’s made the rounds on the “Today” show with Matt Lauer and “NBC Nightly News.”

Just you wait. She’ll have her own reality show before all this is over.

But as crazy as the Dolezal sideshow is, this commission stuff is pure tragedy.

The police ombudsman position, which was vacated not long ago, and the ombudsman commission evolved out of the best elements of Spokane.

Recoiling from what happened to Zehm, the community rallied to the cause of police oversight, vowing to make sure such a thing never occurred again.

Zehm, to recap, was a developmentally disabled man who worked as a janitor.

On March 18, 2006, Zehm was wrongly reported to police as a possible thief.

Video recorders inside a Division Street Zip Trip show that Zehm was confronted by Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson Jr., who immediately began beating the 36-year-old with a baton and then shocked him repeatedly with a Taser.

More officers arrived and joined the violence. Zehm was hogtied and, out of fear that he might spit, a plastic mask with a tiny air hole was placed over his face. It was never hooked up to an oxygen source. Zehm suffocated, suffered and died two days later in a hospital.

It took time, but justice finally prevailed. Thompson was convicted by a federal jury for excessive force and lying to investigators about what he had done.

Then more good came in the years that followed.

With the goal of independent police accountability in mind, concerned citizens and city officials collaborated and worked to change the climate. An ombudsman was hired. The commission was formed. Everybody hoped for the best.

What was created hasn’t been perfect. Anything touched by politics rarely is.

But this disaster?

This could bring everything back to where it was when Otto walked into that Zip Trip for junk food.

We can’t let that happen.

Mayor Condon needs to act fast to clean up the commission. A new ombudsman needs to be hired and this time one with a real spine.

I know you can do it, Dave.

This is, after all, an election year. And there is that thing called the Curse of the One-Term Mayor to think about.

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@ spokesman.com.
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