Former Spokane Police Guild President John Gately testified in his misdemeanor trial Monday that he told a fellow officer under investigation for rape that sheriff’s detectives might want to collect his DNA but didn’t reveal details about a pending search warrant.
A jury of seven women and five men began deliberating late Monday afternoon on the charge Gately obstructed a detective from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. The charges stem from two phone calls Gately made to police Sgt. Gordon Ennis in the days after a fellow officer accused Ennis of raping her at a party.
Investigators later served a warrant to collect fingernail clippings from Ennis and found his nails appeared to be freshly trimmed.
Gately testified he was acting as guild president and called Ennis the morning of Oct. 26, 2015, to tell him he was being placed on administrative leave. He made the call after discussing a news release naming Ennis that Officer Teresa Fuller, the department’s spokeswoman, was planning to distribute.
Fuller, who was called as a defense witness, testified it’s typical for someone from the guild to notify officers when they’re being placed on administrative leave because officers usually have questions about the process. She said she asked Gately whether she or he should make the call before Ennis’ name was released to the media. Gately said he would take care of it, she said.
Gately testified he didn’t think the investigation of Ennis for sexual assault was confidential since that information was included in the release about to be sent to media.
Gately called Ennis after talking to Fuller, and the two talked for about seven minutes, phone records presented at trial show. Gately testified most of the conversation was related to the details about Ennis’ administrative leave.
That conversation included a mention that police officials would stop by Ennis’ house to collect Ennis’ badge and gun, Gately said.
When Ennis asked if the location could be changed, Gately said that was up to the county since it was their investigation, he testified. Ennis asked him what the county was looking for, he said. Gately responded, “I don’t know, but I would guess your DNA.”
“I just answered his question. I didn’t think about it,” Gately said. When he learned Ennis may have trimmed his nails after the conversation, he found that “very surprising,” he said.
Gately also had called Ennis the previous night after learning of the allegations against him from former Assistant Chief Selby Smith. He said he made that call because he’d seen cases where officers accused of misconduct started calling potential witnesses and interfering with the investigation and he wanted to avoid something like that happening.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Stefanie Collins, Gately maintained he had not told Ennis a search warrant was going to be served. He agreed with Collins’ statements that investigators don’t typically tip somebody off about a search warrant because it might lead them to destroy evidence.
Collins suggested Gately didn’t make enough effort to help the victim officer, but Gately said many of the calls he made the night he learned of the accusations were to get her the help she needed.
He thought another officer she had already contacted was in a better position to provide that support than he was and did not try to fulfill that role personally, he said.
“I knew my role as the guild president was going to take me in another direction,” he said.
The next day, the guild assigned two representatives each to Ennis, the officer alleging rape, and the officer who hosted the party. Gately and the then-vice president of the guild, Sgt. John Griffin, were assigned to Ennis.
Prosecutors must prove Gately willfully acted to hinder, obstruct or delay the county’s investigation of Ennis for a jury to convict.
In closing arguments, Collins presented a PowerPoint focusing on actions Gately took that she said proved he acted deliberately to warn Ennis of the investigation. Those included the fact that he used his personal phone to make the calls to Ennis and did not tell anyone else he had called Ennis.
“He told the rape suspect that the Sheriff’s Office wanted his DNA,” she said. “He knew what he was doing amounted to a cover-up. He knows that you don’t tip off the suspect because the evidence could be destroyed.”
Gately’s attorney, David Allen, portrayed his client as an officer who was looking out for members of the union while doing his best to wear multiple hats.
“He did what he was tasked to do,” Allen said. While Gately may have made a “mistake,” Allen said, he was the victim of people looking to criticize him with 20/20 hindsight after the fact.
“It seems like whatever he’s done is wrong,” Allen said. If Gately had gone to help the victim in the hospital, “they’d be suggesting he tried to talk her out of her story,” he said.
He also said the state’s case left many places for jurors to find reasonable doubt. County detectives would have had to file a search warrant to seek DNA in Ennis’ car anyway because of potential evidence contamination, he said, meaning Gately’s call did not hinder or delay the investigation.
Jurors will continue deliberations Tuesday morning.
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