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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County Sheriff’s Office unpublishes its Facebook page amid backlash over investigation into sergeant


The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has unpublished its Facebook page following the release of a body camera video showing a deputy bloodying a 62-year-old man’s face.

The August body camera video showed Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Clay Hilton pulling Kevin Hinton out of his car and hitting him multiple times while ripping his shirt and knocking out his false teeth. The arrest left Hinton with eight broken ribs, a punctured lung, severe concussion, shoulder injury and a disfigured lip, the 62-year-old’s attorneys said.

The sheriff’s office announced Hilton was placed on leave Oct. 7 pending an investigation into the violent arrest. Sheriff John Nowels said in a statement that he immediately asked the Spokane Police Department to investigate independently the actions of the sergeant.

“I trust the Spokane Police Department to conduct a thorough, complete, and unbiased investigation into the Sergeant’s actions and this incident. All reports and body-worn camera video have been turned over, and we will continue to cooperate with investigators. An internal investigation will be conducted following the completion of the independent investigation, which is standard policy. I want to assure the public we serve that this investigation will be complete, and that the rights of all individuals involved will be protected.” Nowels said.

Once that made its way to Facebook, hundreds of comments about the sergeant – some threatening – were posted on the Sheriff’s Office page.

Following the uptick in traffic, the page was taken down. There was no public statement on the matter.

Spokane County Sheriff spokesperson Cpl. Mark Gregory, who runs the Facebook page, said it was taken down because people across the country were spamming the account with vulgar comments, including repeatedly linking a video from a monetized YouTube personality who often criticizes police.

People were also clogging the sheriff’s office phone line, Gregory said.

He told The Spokesman-Review the investigation into the incident is ongoing, and the removal of the page was part of the process to ensure its integrity, but the office can’t comment any further on the incident with the deputy.

“We have to protect everyone’s rights involved,” Gregory said. “That’s why.”

SCSO isn’t required to have a Facebook page, Nowels said. According to the office’s social media disclaimer, it does have some discretion with the content. And this is the first time they’ve taken it down.

The disclaimer states the office reserves the right to delete comments that are sexual, vulgar, malicious, obscene, defamatory, encourage illegal activity, can compromise the safety of a public officer and more. It doesn’t specify anything about unpublishing a Facebook page, but Gregory said the office is working with the legal department to get the page back up so it can sort out how to monitor comments more thoroughly.

“Comments are important to us and others who read these pages,” the disclaimer said.

Jim Leighty, a member of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, said he frequently visits the page for information and often comments on it. Sometimes his comments are hidden, sometimes the sheriff’s office responds.

When a security officer shot and killed a man on federal land after trespassing warnings on Sept. 30, people in the Facebook comments were questioning the circumstances of the shooting. The sheriff’s office replied, saying the incident “turned bad.”

Leighty said public Facebook comments allow for people to input their own opinion and share their thoughts – but when a law enforcement page where the community gets its information is taken down with no input, “they’re more likely to control the narrative.”

“In that instance, that narrative will always be supportive of law enforcement,” Leighty said.

Anwar Peace, another police accountability activist, said he’s dismayed at the removal of the page because of the comments.

“They have already posted a lot of stories that are controversial. There will be disgusting comments on there, especially dealing with a shooting or folks they interact with that are mentally ill. I’ve personally seen disgusting comments,” said Peace, who is head of the Spokane Human Rights Commission.

“However, it’s very shocking that they made that move. It’s kind of counter to their mandate of transparency.”

The Washington Public Records Act does require that any public agency must preserve public records, even if it is through social media.

Gregory said there’s no timeline when the page will be up again, but that he hopes it’s “as soon as possible.”

“We can’t let the internet cloud the investigation,” Gregory said.