Spokane patrol officer benched following combative, profanity-laced tirade caught on camera
Feb. 7, 2017 Updated Tue., Feb. 7, 2017 at 9:45 p.m.
Officer Chris McMurtrey (Spokane Police Department)
A Spokane Police officer has been on desk duty for a year after body camera footage showed an “atrocious” encounter with a suspect in the back seat of his car, said Police Chief Craig Meidl.
Officer Chris McMurtrey returned to patrol two weeks ago after the year of increased supervision and extra training, Meidl said.
“This is probably the most atrocious demeanor I’ve seen in my career,” Meidl said during a news conference Tuesday. “I believe it looks terrible.”
The video below contains numerous profanities.
McMurtrey responded to a domestic violence call near Third Avenue and Altamont Street in January 2016. He spotted the suspect nearby and gave chase. The man was tackled by several officers, who used their Tasers on him. It took multiple officers to handcuff him because he kept reaching toward his waist and officers feared he had a gun, Meidl said.
McMurtrey had a lengthy, profanity-laced exchange with the suspect as he drove the man to jail.
At one point, McMurtrey stopped his patrol car and got out to open the back door and confront the suspect.
The suspect’s comments are frequently inaudible on the body camera video, but he can be heard taunting McMurtrey several times, calling him a “punk” and a “tough guy.”
Meidl said the suspect threatened to shoot McMurtrey and his family. But that and the fact that McMurtrey had just been involved in a chase and a fight does not excuse McMurtrey’s behavior, Meidl said.
“You get a huge adrenaline dump in those situations, and it takes awhile to wear off,” he said. “However, we have to stay professional.”
The interaction is not indicative of the great work police officers do every day, Meidl said.
“We train our officers to de-escalate every situation,” he said. “It really demeans the profession when you get into this type of banter back and forth.”
The body camera footage was first watched by McMurtrey’s sergeant, who was reviewing it because force had been used during the arrest. After watching the entire video, the sergeant filed a complaint.
The use-of-force committee, which also reviews each incident where force is used, brought the video to the attention of then-Chief Rick Dubrow, who pulled McMurtrey from patrol and assigned him to desk duty. He was also removed from the department’s SWAT team and has not been returned to that duty.
An internal affairs investigation was launched but had to be suspended because there was no policy in place to govern how and when body cameras could be used in disciplinary procedures, Meidl said.
“We weren’t technically able to use it in a punitive manner,” he said.
McMurtrey couldn’t be disciplined based on the video but he could be reassigned and given extra training, Meidl said. The case also could not be referred to the police ombudsman since there wasn’t an active internal affairs investigation, the chief said.
“We did everything we could, based on the law,” he said. “In my view, we sent a message to him.”
Meidl said he released the video after a private citizen requested a copy of the incident records, including the video.
The policy on body camera footage is not complete, but Meidl said he hopes to have it finished soon.
A few days after the incident, McMurtrey wrote a letter of apology to his commanding officers, acknowledging what he did wrong and what he should have done differently. A University of Arizona student working on a body camera study was riding along with McMurtrey during the incident and told investigators that his behavior on previous nights was textbook perfect but was abnormal that night.
“I don’t understand why this was a different call for him,” Meidl said. “People threaten us all the time.”
Meidl said he believes the body camera program is beneficial and wants to be transparent about problems that arise.
“The body cameras are working,” he said. “They capture the good, they capture the bad.”
McMurtrey was involved in two police shootings, one in 2011 and the other in 2015. One of the shootings was fatal.
McMurtrey has no other disciplinary history since he joined the department in 2008.
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