A jury on Wednesday found former Spokane police Sgt. Gordon Ennis guilty of sexually assaulting another police officer.
The jury deliberated for two hours before arriving at a verdict of second-degree rape, which could send Ennis to prison for eight years and requires him to register as a sex offender.
Police Chief Craig Meidl issued a statement Wednesday in support of the victim while acknowledging the ramifications of the case on the department he took over in 2016.
“Foremost as a department we will continue to support the officer involved and ensure she has all available resources to assist her on both a personal and professional level,” he said. “She is a valuable member of our agency and we will ensure that we do everything in our power to help her in the healing process.”
He said the department had “confidence and respect” for due process, but could not comment further as the case could go to appeals.
“This has been a difficult time for everyone – those directly involved, their families and friends, our community and our department,” he said. “The serious impact this incident, investigation and trial has had cannot be disregarded or minimized.”
The case was a major setback to a department working to improve its reputation after the conviction of former Officer Karl Thompson, who was found guilty by a federal jury in 2011 of violating the civil rights of developmentally disabled janitor Otto Zehm, who died two days after a confrontation with Thompson. In the aftermath of the verdict, the department revamped policies, instituted new training and started wearing body cameras. Thompson spent three years in federal prison.
Ennis was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs after hugging his family in the gallery.
Ennis, who was placed on extended leave from the department following his arrest in 2015, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a fellow female police officer in Colbert on Oct. 25, 2015, at a party hosted by Officer Doug Strosahl. His trial began Feb. 26 and has featured testimony from over a dozen witnesses, including the defendant and the victim.
The state’s case relied heavily on testimony from witnesses who described the victim as being “severely drunk” up to and during the sexual assault.
With little physical evidence presented, the jury was asked throughout trial and again on Wednesday to weigh the narrative of those witnesses versus that of Ennis, who testified Tuesday that the woman was alert, conscious and conversational up to and during the assault.
In court Wednesday for the verdict were eight detectives with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Detective Brandon Armstrong, lead detective on the case, spent several hours during trial fielding questions from attorneys. Detective Robert Satake, who was seated in the audience, also took the stand.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, upon hearing the verdict, said the detectives involved in the case did an “outstanding job putting the case together.”
“I think that justice was served,” he said. “I hope the victim in this case can finally find closure.”
After forgoing an opening statement last week when trial began, defense attorney Rob Cossey spent the majority of Wednesday morning picking apart the state’s evidence and asking the jury to focus on a span of about 15 to 20 minutes – when only the defendant and the victim were alone in a room together.
In that span, he said, is where the case lived.
“They’re the only two people who know what happened,” he said. “There are only two people.”
In trial, prosecutors spent a sizable amount of time on the defendant’s actions after he was tipped that an investigation was forthcoming. Attorneys argue Ennis clipped his fingernails, knowing that detectives would want samples of his nail clippings, and they cited instances when the defendant admitted to contacting witnesses against a court order.
Former Spokane Police Guild President John Gately was tried after he was accused of illegally informing Ennis about the forthcoming rape investigation. The obstruction case ended when the jury could not reach a decision. He was suspended for a month, but after appeal, ended up serving one week of unpaid leave.
In closing arguments, Cossey urged the jury to block out those elements, and instead consider what was alleged to have happened inside the guest bedroom that night. According to Ennis, it was consensual sexual contact.
But according to the woman’s statements to police and in trial, she woke to Ennis jamming his fingers inside her hard enough to where her body was rocking back and forth. She told jurors she was sore for several days after the incident.
“This is not about DNA,” Cossey said. “That’s not an issue here. It’s consent.”
The defense asked the jury to consider why a member of the Spokane Police Department would risk his career in law enforcement and his relationship with his wife to “go into a room where a sleeping co-worker is” and sexually assault her.
“Does that make sense?” Cossey asked.
Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Fitzgerald, however, said the case was an amalgamation of factors, not an isolated incident. And she said that, based on his actions that night, it was clear Ennis took those risks.
According to witnesses and Ennis’ own admission, the married man was kissing another woman, who he had just met that night, in the hot tub earlier in the evening. After exiting the water, the woman would later pass out in a room drunk. She testified she doesn’t remember anything after the tub or kissing the defendant.
“Mr. Cossey suggested there would be no reason for Gordon Ennis to do what he did,” Fitzgerald said. “To take the risks that he did. Gordon Ennis did that because of who he is and because of his mentality. And the facts in this case demonstrate that.”
She also reintroduced the victim’s testimony about being ostracized from fellow officers and friends after reporting the rape to law enforcement.
“She talked to you about the difficulty she had in processing this,” Fitzgerald said. “The pain she went through due to the lack of trust.”
By 11:30 a.m., both attorneys were finished and the case was handed to the 12-person jury of five women and seven men.
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