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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Chief shows sound judgment with suspension

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl didn’t have to suspend Sgt. John Gately after allegations that he shared confidential information about an investigation with an officer who was accused of rape.

Gately, who was the Spokane Guild president at the time of the incident, was charged with obstruction, but the jury deadlocked, with eight wanting to acquit. The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office declined to retry him, saying it seldom retries misdemeanor cases.

Furthermore, a department administrative panel reviewed the case and determined that he didn’t act with malicious intent, and it blamed then-Assistant Chief Selby Smith for telling Gately. (The department would be wise to change its policy, so officers are not informed by administration in such cases).

Meidl could have cited those outcomes as reason to move on, and that probably would’ve been the popular choice within the department. Instead, he suspended Gately without pay for four weeks and removed him from the Peer Assistance Team.

In doing so, he demonstrated that public trust is an important consideration. That may seem obvious, but there have been painful examples over the years of Spokane Police Department leadership closing ranks in response to controversies. If it had to endure a public-relation’s shiner, so be it.

Meidl’s action sends a message that officers can still exercise poor judgment while not violating the strict letter of state statutes or departmental policies.

This is how public trust is rebuilt and maintained.

In suspending Gately, the chief wrote: “Your involvement in this incident has brought great embarrassment and discredit to the Spokane Police Department. This is not the type of behavior that I will tolerate from any of our employees.”

Cellphone records showed Gately made two calls to Sgt. Gordon Ennis after a female trainee said Ennis raped her at a party. Prosecutors alleged that he tipped Ennis to a warrant issued to collect fingernail samples for DNA evidence. Ennis immediately hired an attorney, and when investigators arrived, his nails were trimmed.

Ennis is scheduled to go to trial on the rape charge in June.

Gately said he made the calls in his capacity as a peer team leader and union official. But regular citizens don’t get head’s-up phone calls about possible criminal investigations, and certainly not from police officers.

That’s what rankled the community about this case, and it appears as if the police chief was sensitive to the appearance of a double standard. Gately should’ve known better to get involved when he did, according to the chief.

This is an encouraging sign of leadership, especially for those who worried that promoting Meidl from within would produce a police chief who would zealously protect the same officers he had worked with for many years.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

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