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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane cop suspended three weeks, loses prestigious roles after frequently accessing explicit sites on department computer

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 22, 2020

By Jared Brown For The Spokesman-Review

A longtime Spokane police officer who accessed hundreds of sexually explicit images using a department computer in 2019 was suspended for three weeks and relieved of duties managing a department program earlier this year.

Officer Dan Cole, who was hired by the department in 1986, was placed on paid administrative leave in January after city information technology staff reviewed his computer use in December, according to records requested by The Spokesman-Review.

His computer log showed visits to pornography and prostitution websites while on- and off-duty.

One other officer was found to have visited a prostitution website, but it appeared related to his work investigating human trafficking, according to investigative records. Computer records also showed he primarily visited the website’s homepage.

Cole, however, navigated deeper into a similar prostitution website to view specific photos and appeared to have searched the internet for explicit images, according to investigative records.

A panel of police officials also concluded that Cole provided false statements about his computer use during an interview with investigators, but Chief Craig Meidl decided there was not sufficient evidence to prove he lied.

Prior to the investigation, Cole, a day-shift patrol officer, was involved in property crime investigations and oversaw the automatic license plate reading, or ALPR, program that searches for vehicles involved in crimes. Police officials determined his rank of officer was not adequate to lead the ALPR program and chose to terminate his role investigating property crimes.

Investigators estimated Cole spent about an hour of on-duty time on explicit websites between Jan. 10, 2019, and Jan. 10 of this year, according to investigative records. His computer showed more than 230 attempts to access potentially pornographic images during that period, as well as more than 220 attempts from September 2018 to June 2019.

Cole said he often used his city computer while off-duty to continue doing police work, although he wasn’t paid overtime and didn’t have permission from a supervisor.

One day in September 2018 computer logs showed Cole attempted to view 83 photos of an adult film actress on 25 different websites, indicating use of a search engine image search, according to investigative records. And during one afternoon in June 2019 records showed attempts to access 51 photos of a Hollywood actress on 14 different websites.

His computer history also showed a web search that returned images of art depicting “mostly nude obese females.” Cole said he didn’t remember the incident but conceded he might have done this because it was “goofy.”

Cole initially denied viewing pornographic images for personal reasons while on duty, according to investigative records. Instead, he claimed his computer log may have reflected explicit pop-up ads and that his frequent visits to a popular local prostitution website were to gather intelligence on crime suspects.

One visit to New York’s version of this prostitution site was out of curiosity, he said.

Cole did clarify, however, that he enjoyed looking at some of the photos of local prostitutes, which included nude images, while trying to identify if any had been involved in recent crimes. He compared this to enjoying driving at high speeds to a 911 call.

“I’m a dude,” Cole said. “But looking for the pictures was not for my own purpose … I didn’t think that would get me in trouble.”

But investigators determined Cole had only minor involvement in one case related to the prostitution site and did not receive permission from a supervisor to access it, according to investigative records.

City information technology staff also were unable to replicate any pop-up ads by visiting the same prostitution site as Cole, according to investigative documents.

He later admitted that he was “100% wrong” to visit a prostitution site for “both work and personal reasons” during a meeting with police officials before Meidl handed down a disciplinary decision, according to city human resources documents. But Cole maintained that he never directly visited pornographic websites and avoided saying whether he used a search engine to look for explicit images.

“It was explained to you that this behavior is not only a violation of SPD policies, it also negatively reflects on the agency,” said a disciplinary letter sent to Cole in June from Meidl and former City Administrator Wes Crago. “What one officer does is a reflection of every officer in the agency.”

Cole was ordered to serve his three-week suspension by Aug. 15 and remained in his role as a patrol officer as of Tuesday, according to Sgt. Terry Preuninger, a police spokesman.

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