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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Crime/Public Safety

Former NAACP VP Le’Taxione asks for assault trial to be moved out of Spokane County

March 10, 2023 Updated Mon., March 13, 2023 at 1:23 p.m.

Le’Taxione leads chants at the beginning of the March for Jacob Blake, hosted by Occupy Spokane on Aug. 30, 2020, in Spokane.  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Le’Taxione leads chants at the beginning of the March for Jacob Blake, hosted by Occupy Spokane on Aug. 30, 2020, in Spokane. (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo

A former NAACP vice president awaiting trial on domestic violence charges argued in a Wednesday court filing that racial bias in the prosecutor’s office, police prejudice and pre-trial publicity make it impossible for him to get a fair trial in Spokane County.

Le’Taxione, also known as Ernest Carter, was arrested and charged with second-degree domestic violence assault in December 2020. He was the vice president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter at the time.

In seeking a change of venue, Le’Taxione’s attorney, Rob Cossey, argues the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office has a history of racial disparities in charging decisions that uphold the belief that Prosecutor Larry Haskell agrees with the public racist statements of his wife.

He also argues there was prejudice in how the assault was reported and investigated after Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl and his wife, Spokane police Capt. Tracie Meidl, were called by then-NAACP President Kiantha Duncan. In addition, Cossey alleges media coverage of Le’Taxione’s arrest would bias a potential jury.

Allegations and fallout

A Spokane woman reported Le’Taxione bit her on the left side of her face before hitting her multiple times and attempting to strangle her during an assault at her home while her young children were present, according to court documents.

Le’Taxione was arrested a short time later, and the consequences of his case are severe.

He was convicted of assaulting a police officer in California in 1983. In 1990, has was convicted in Oregon of attempted murder with a firearm. Then in 1998, he was convicted of first-degree robbery in Pierce County. That third strike landed him in prison for life without parole.

But in 2016, he was granted clemency by Gov. Jay Inslee under the condition that he complete a work release program and comply with a variety of terms of supervision.

After his release, Le’Taxione became an activist focused on preventing gang violence.

In January 2021, the governor’s office began a review of potential violations of Le’Taxione’s release connected to the domestic violence charge and allegations that he was drinking. A Department of Corrections hearing officer found that he violated the terms of his release, according to documents from the governor’s office.

Inslee indicated that Le’Taxione could petition for reconsideration once the assault case is resolved.

Arguments to move the trial

Through his attorney, Le’Taxione argued that he could not get a fair trial in Spokane County due to a number of factors.

Two days after the alleged attack, Duncan called Tracie Meidl to her home, the motion alleges.

The victim was there and told Meidl what happened. Meidl instructed the victim to call Crime Check and make an official report, Cossey alleged.

Despite both Meidls being aware of the criminal allegations, neither filed an official report. Le’Taxione claims the Meidls were duty-bound as peace officers to file a report.

The Meidls’ personal involvement in the case “influenced” how evidence was gathered, Le’Taxione argues through Cossey, his attorney.

“The Meidls’ authority and influence within the Spokane Police Dept. prejudice the investigative process causing tunnel vision in their subordinates at best and at worst guiding the claimant witness on what to say to ensure alleged assault details were deemed credible,” the motion from Cossey states.

However, the assault was not investigated by Spokane police but instead was under the jurisdiction of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

When asked about the incident Friday, Duncan said she called Meidl to ensure Le’Taxione was arrested without incident, given the history of police violence against people of color that was at the forefront of public discussion in 2020.

“That was for his own protection,” Duncan said in an interview.

Craig Meidl told The Spokesman-Review that both he and Tracie Meidl knew about Duncan’s call. 

Anyone in that situation is “understandably scared, worried, nervous,” Meidl said. Since Duncan and the Meidls have a relationship, Duncan called, hoping to make the reporting process less difficult for the victim, Meidl said of his recollection of the incident.

Meidl said he has no control over sheriff’s office investigations and did not interfere in any way.

Haskell’s wife, Leslie Haskell, has made numerous public racist statements, including calling herself a “proud white nationalist.” She has used racial slurs, according to the motion.

In the motion, Cossey also argues that Larry Haskell’s charging decisions show he agrees with his wife’s racist views.

Cossey cited data from the JFA Institute report on the Spokane County Jail population that showed Black people were 13 times more likely to be incarcerated than white people. The report also showed Black people were locked up longer than white inmates, and that Black people paid higher bail.

The motion also noted that Sandra Altshuler, a former drug and mental health court coordinator, wrote in a letter to the editor published in The Spokesman-Review that referrals to therapeutic courts dropped significantly, especially for people of color, under Larry Haskell’s leadership.

Through his Chief Criminal Deputy prosecuting attorney, Preston McCollam, Larry Haskell declined to comment on the motion because the case is pending. Prosecutor Tom Treppiedi has yet to file a response to the motion, but likely will file one ahead of a hearing on the motion March 16.

This is the second time a local attorney has argued that Larry Haskell and the prosecutor’s office are unfit to handle cases involving people of color due to prosecutorial data and his wife’s statements .

A judge said the attorney in the prior case failed to connect Larry Haskell to the charging decisions in that case or draw a connection to the broader charging process of the prosecutor’s office.

Lastly, Cossey argued “sensational” articles written on the case by The Spokesman-Review were “prejudicial” to Le’Taxione and “calculated to inflame the public mind.”

Previous newspaper stories included Le’Taxione’s prior criminal convictions, which Cossey said were reported “for the purpose of creating sentiment against the defendant.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the Meidl’s involvement in the situation.

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