May 21, 2012
President Stuckart and City Council
Re: Proposed resolution approving Otto Zehm Settlement Agreement
I wish to thank Mayor Condon, Council President Stuckart and the new City Council for making the Otto Zehm settlement a high priority unlike the previous administration and Council. I also wish to thank the Spokesman-Review for keeping Otto’s story alive - Tom Clouse, Doug Clark, Shawn Vestal and many others. The Center for Justice should be commended for taking Otto’s case and sticking with it even though the former administration tried everything possible to cover it up.
The S-R with its coverage and the CFJ in launching of the federal civil suit is what caused the US DOJ to come in and play hardball in our bush league to ensure that justice was served. I hope the US DOJ is not done yet and will go after all who were complicit and or aided and abetted in the cover-up.
Otto’s tragic death and the cover-up that ensued were the result of a total system failure much like the Nixon Watergate scandal to cover-up a third rate burglary. Some of the dynamics of this failure are beyond the control of the City but not the voters of this County - Steve Tucker. Unfortunately the tragic and unfortunate death of Otto was the catalyst that exposed the dirty under belly of the local criminal justice system.
And there is the issue infamous salute by may SPD officers that went unsanctioned … that Doug Clark failed to mention in his dead bang broadside on the Zehm, “… the serpents of the city’s legal department … the jackals we pay to serve us who refused that any wrongs had been done.”
The recent S-R Editorial Opinion (http://tinyurl.com/dyzo73k) was right on the mark. It was never about the money. All the Zehm family wanted was an apology and assurances that such tragedies wouldn’t happen again by cops allowed to go rogue by inept, incompetent and clueless law enforcement leaders, the City Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Mayor and the County Prosecutor’s Office. The Zehm family let the City off the hook very lightly. In short high ranking members of the SPD, the City Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Mayor lied to the citizens.
The City should respond in kind in a strong showing of good faith that it is very serious about bringing real change to the SPD to regain the trust and confidence of the people instead of being afraid of their own police force as some occupying military force instead. All the happy talk on moving forward will do nothing to bring about the cultural, behavioral and organizational change that is desperately needed by SPD.
There are many fine men and women who are doing a very difficult job day in and day out that need our support to weed out the bad apples and to install a police command staff that has the intestinal fortitude to lead and to discipline the rank and file when appropriate. The City has not only failed WE THE PEOPLE but has failed its police officers for condoning and sanctioning poor police leadership. If there is no support from the top, officers who do speak out will find themselves without backup on hot calls
The Zehm case is not an isolated case of police mistakes, abuse and misconduct. There are many others where the system failed to catch and address as well - Quinton Dodd, Scott Creach (federal civil suit CRV 2:11-CV-00432-RMP) John Hudson (federal civil suit CRV 2:11-CV-00137-TOR). These cases would be few and far between if local law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office had moral, ethical and professional leadership with a strong desire to search for the truth instead of spending much effort to cover up mistakes, abuse and misconduct from public exposure.
One case that stands out in my mind is former SPD Ofc. Alan Edwards.
Why wasn’t SPD Ofc. Alan Edwards not charged under state law and or federal law or at least fired wasn’t after the SPD internal affairs investigation was completed for his egregious civil rights violation of a Spokane citizen? Here are the criminal and IA reports - http://tinyurl.com/6ofnlwd and http://tinyurl.com/7g88hkq. Read them and form your own opinion. In my opinion this was a flagrant abuse of police power that violated the fundamental right of all citizens to be secure in our homes without unreasonable search and seizure without warrant - The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.
As a former police union president and strong supporter of defending the rights of officers, HOWEVER in my opinion the Spokane Police Guild has done its members no favors in the Thompson case. Police unions are necessary to protect the rights of officers especially when capricious police and city administrators go rogue on witch hunts. The Guild in my opinion has strayed into areas that historically are the rights and prerogatives of management e.g., a case of the tail wagging the dog. What was Guild vice president Moses thinking when he testified in the Thompson case. It was apparent to me he was lying. Ofc. Moses’ attitude and demeanor under direct questioning was very contemptuous and insolent.
Further I have attached a number of actions the City could implement as a showing of good faith to return the graciousness of the Zehm family. In the end it will be WE THE PEOPLE who will pay for the failure of our elected and appointed leaders to address this serious problem.
Thank you Zehm family for your graciousness!
There are a number of actions that the City could take that would be a showing of good faith to the community and the Zehm family that the City’s new leadership of Mayor Condon, President Stuckart and the City Council are very serious about seeing that meaningful change occurs within SPD:
1). First and foremost because of the abdication of County Prosecutor Steve Tucker of his duties and responsibilities in reviewing officer involved shootings and deaths (OIS/OID), a good way of quickly publicly vetting the evidence/testimony of these incidents would be inquest hearings when the criminal investigation is handed off to the prosecutor for review.
In my opinion up until now these investigations have been low balled and Tucker hasn’t bothered to send them back for further investigation before rendering his filing decision. This would quickly raise the professional bar of how these investigations are done any whether they warrant criminal filing or not. Well done criminal investigations would facilitate later IA investigations. If mistakes were made, police policy, procedure and training can be changed quickly when necessary. There has yet been an after action review in the Zehm case or at least publicly disclosed.
2). An after action review of what led to the Zehm death is greatly needed. The cover-up and its aftermath have a lot in common with the Nixon Watergate. Both involve systemic organizational failures. This review must be done by professionals outside of the City of Spokane’s influence that include law enforcement professionals and not necessarily academics and legal experts.
3). The infamous SPD salute is still offensive to me and may Spokane citizens. City Attorney Nancy Isserlis could study the existing case law. In my opinion this was an actionable offense under current SPD conduct policy regardless of whether these officers were off-duty. This is not a free speech issue as case law is quite clear as a condition of employment police officers can be held to a professional conduct policy – off duty.
It disturbed me greatly that Chief Stephens didn’t take action on my complaint. All that was necessary was a letter to the officers’ personnel files that would time out in six months or so that such action would no longer be tolerated. I sense the hand of former Asst. City Attorney Treppiedi again as this is what Chief Kirkpatrick and Mayor Verner were parroting the same legal counsel the salute was protected free speech. This would send a strong and clear message that the new City leadership is breaking with the past and intends to put its house in order.
4). Recommend to the regional board that administers the multi-agency investigative team that currently responds to all officer involved shootings/deaths (OIS/OID), hire a law enforcement expert in OIS/OID investigations. This consultant could ride along with the team for a while. The consultant could give hands on training and make recommendations on how these investigations can be improved. What I saw in the Creach case did not impress me. In my opinion the team went through the motions but never really got to the truth of what actually happened that night.
The question is why? Is a lack of knowledge and or lack of desire to ask the hard questions that need to be asked? Sometimes this could be a case of group think, failure to believe that officers will sometimes lie, dismissive of critique of perceived outsiders and not thinking outside of the box.
5). The City should set clear policy that it will not tolerate the continued employment of officers that are found lying. Arbitrators fail to understand the necessity of holding officers to a higher standard because of court sanctions. Arbitrators will order the rehiring of officers who lie if there is no set public policy preventing them from doing so. This may be a factor in hesitating to fire officers when it is well justified. As recently reported by the S-R there are Brady issues in retaining officers that have lost credibility in the courts – Officers Moses and McIntyre.
6). In addition to the memorial plaque in Mission Park that the Zehm family has requested, name the SPD Police Academy after Otto. This would serve as a daily reminder to all who serve us. By the way when was the last time there was an actual police academy class? Seems like all the SPD hires are laterals transfers. This is all well in good to save money but sometimes if you don’t do real backgrounds, you end up getting ringers. Unfortunately the local system as not been good at weeding them out once they are hired – Ofc. Thompson and Dep. Hirzel with fragmented work histories.
7). The Mayor and the City Council can request that the US DOJ continue with its current criminal investigation in the Thompson case to charge when possible any and all who were complicit and or aided and abetted in the cover-up. They have a wonderful tool that Tucker fails to use when dealing with reluctant witnesses - a federal grand jury.
8). The Mayor and the City Council could also ask that US DOJ formally investigate the case of Ofc. Edwards as to why he was never charged or at least fired after the IA investigation. The Thompson and Edwards cases are like peas in a pod and illustrative of the systemic problems of high level officials in seeking to cover up these cases. I doubt any review of the findings in the reopened criminal investigation in the Ofc. Edwards case will lead to any state charges being filed.
9). And lastly a way forward that may have a real chance of bringing substantive change within SPD and other local law enforcement agencies. What is needed is a real control mechanism that has instant credibility to challenge what goes for the professional law enforcement norm and best practice in our community.
In some cases local law enforcement is twenty years behind real time in other areas of the Country. The rules of engagement between a military in an active war zone and those of civilian law enforcement within a civil society have been allowed to become clouded and blurred. This watchdog mechanism needs to be divorced from what goes as politics as usual in this town.
Create a center for excellence in law enforcement within the Center for Justice named after Otto.
This center could be funded with seed money from the City in recognition of the Zehm family’s graciousness. Further annual contributions by the City for operating expenses could be included for a few years to come. Once the center is created grant funding could be sought from the US DOJ and other organizations both governmental and private.
I would support this expense as opposed to all the money and resources used to support the Downtown Electric Trolley to nowhere, when our law enforcement agencies are killing citizens under questionable decision making and circumstances. I was gaveled down by President Joe Shogan for having the audacity of questioning City funding priorities during the recent trolley debate. I brought up the Scott Creach case and the pending closure of the SPD’s crimes against property unit (Burglary unit). The recent reports on the SPD staffing levels and comparison crime rates are very disturbing.
The finances of such a center should be kept separate from the CFJ except for the sharing some staff and office space at the Community Building. The center should have its own board of directors that are largely independent of the CFJ. The board should be comprised of law enforcement experts from out of our area and could include some members of the community. The board should not contain the usual local power brokers.
The center would be a professional think tank both regionally and nationally for law enforcement best practices. The center could also draw from the criminal justice programs at WSU, EWU and Whitworth. Language could be included in the creation of this center that the SPD must be open to study and examination by the center and should seriously consider any recommendations by this center for policy, procedure and training changes. READ - the SPD could be sued successfully for failure to change training, negligent retention and other police policy issues as recommended by the center.
Such a center would side step the local political corruption. The center would have credibility when it speaks critically of the SPD and other local agencies instead of being dismissed and marginalized like those of us who have spoken out and have broken blue http://tinyurl.com/ykz9wcb.
Further no negotiations would be necessary with the Guild which would be out flanked.