Spokane police chief defends communications as activists call for him to resign
March 20, 2023 Updated Mon., March 20, 2023 at 9:02 p.m.
Spokane activists are calling for the resignation of Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl, saying that the chief’s recently reported communications with local business leaders amounted to a shadow effort to undermine police reforms and hurt political opponents.
Around a half-dozen activists gathered next to Spokane City Hall to demand action from local leaders during a Monday morning press conference led by Spokane Community Against Racism.
Speakers pointed to a number of instances they felt had eroded trust with their police department.
In recent years, Spokane has faced numerous lawsuits from families of people shot by police, speakers noted. In September, the city reached a $4 million settlement with the family of David Novak, who was shot and killed by a Spokane Police officer in 2019. Novak’s mother, Debbie, was going to speak Monday but had a scheduling conflict, according to organizers.
The precipitating event for Monday’s calls for Meidl’s job was recent reporting on the results of the first independent investigation conducted by the Spokane Office of the Police Ombudsman.
“Our chief of police is using city resources to advance the agenda of a narrow group of powerful business owners, lending them more power than the average Spokanite,” said Jac Archer, a member of Peace and Justice Action League and Spokane Community Against Racism.
In December, the Office of the Police Ombudsman released a report detailing the aftermath of a 2020 homicide in Browne’s Addition and a subsequent confrontation between police and Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson over whether Wilkerson would release surveillance footage without a warrant.
But the focus of Archer and others Monday was not on the initial confrontation, but on the tightknit relationship between Meidl and local business leaders, particularly Chud Wendle, that the ombudsman discovered during the course of the investigation.
Since 2021, Meidl and Wendle, who is active in local politics and has been sharply critical of Wilkerson and other left-leaning council members, emailed each other “hundreds, if not thousands” of times, according to the report.
Meidl had provided Wendle information about cases and suspects, had special reports compiled and shared information for “lobbying purposes,” among others, according to the report.
Meidl said he doesn’t plan to step down and defended his conduct in an interview Monday, adding he had been working closely with Spokane business owners with a vested interest in a safe downtown. He argued that his communications with Wendle were not philosophically different from those with then-Spokane NAACP President Kurtis Robinson and Spokane Human Rights Commission Chair Anwar Peace, who both called for Meidl’s resignation Monday.
“Kurtis and Anwar have been recipients of that relationship as well,” he added. “So it seems to me that they want that relationship unless I’m sharing things they don’t want me to share.”
Meidl’s resignation was not the only demand from activists detailed in a petition already signed by Spokane Community Against Racism, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and the Spokane branch of the NAACP.
If Meidl were to resign, activists called on Mayor Nadine Woodward to search for a new police chief from outside the department, through a process recommended in 2016 by the Police Leadership Advisory Committee.
In addition, they called for the Office of the Police Ombudsman to be given more latitude to investigate and issue recommendations, and for the city to ensure everyone is given equal treatment regarding the release of public records.
If Meidl does not resign, the group called on the Spokane City Council to further investigate Meidl’s relationship with local business groups.
Wilkerson and City Council President Breean Beggs were not immediately available to comment Monday on calls for Meidl’s resignation. However, Beggs previously told The Spokesman-Review that the Office of the Police Ombudsman’s investigation had revealed a “shadow public advocacy campaign the chief was running with Chud Wendle,” adding that he was “outraged” by the findings.
Woodward was also not immediately available for comment, though city spokesman Brian Coddington said she was listening to community concerns.
“But I don’t anticipate that the mayor’s going to take any action against the chief,” Coddington added.
In a March 13 letter to the City Council, Woodward voiced support for Meidl’s work as police chief, but added that she had instructed the police department to adopt recommendations from the Office of the Police Ombudsman regularizing how records are released.
“Taking these steps will set clear expectations regarding release of information and improve the level of consistency and understanding of their application,” she wrote.
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