SPOKANE, Wash. -A national trend toward more police accountability has now caught up with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
On Wednesday, several civil rights groups, including the Center for Justice and the NAACP called for independent citizen oversight of sheriff’s deputies in use of force incidents. Those groups and about a thousand people who’ve signed a petition want the Spokane County commissioners to pass a new ordinance requiring independent citizen oversight.
The push for independent oversight was started by the Center for Justice in 2014.
“Groups like the Center for Justice indicated that we wanted an oversight board that was completely free of bias and who is completely independent from the sheriff and the sheriff’s department,” Rick Eichstaedt with the Center for Justice said.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says independent oversight already exists and he still welcomes suggestions to improve it. The sheriff said the existing citizen’s advisory board is independent. That board sits once a month and its meetings are open to the public. Local civil rights groups feel the board doesn’t have enough clout or visibility.
As an offer of proof of its transparency, Knezovich has invited the Center of Justice to inspect or even expand the board’s powers.
“The Center for Justice has been invited to the table multiple times to take a look at the way Spokane County actually operates and the way the sheriff’s office operates its citizen review board. They have not taken me up on that offer,” Knezovich said.
What the Center for Justice did instead was present a thousand signatures to county commissioners asking them to pass a new ordinance requiring independent oversight, a petition drive started by the sheriff’s enemies but now more reflective a trend toward police accountability.
“While we recognize the efforts of the sheriff’s office to provide an avenue of redress through the citizen’s review board, this entity does not have independent oversight authority,” Liz Moore with the Peace and Justice Action League said.
County commissioners were at other pre-scheduled meetings when that petition was delivered to their office Wednesday. Knezovich said all of the groups present at Wednesday’s rally are still welcome to attend the next citizen’s advisory board meeting which happens the second Monday of every month.
Calling the process of selecting an ombudsman for the Spokane Police Department “a political nightmare,” Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich on Tuesday dismissed a petition requesting independent civilian oversight for his department as redundant.
“This is being driven by a few political opponents of mine,” Knezovich said at a news conference called a day before organizers planned to deliver more than 1,000 signatures to Spokane County commissioners requesting a new body to oversee operations of the Sheriff’s Office.
Signees include representatives from the Center for Justice, the Peace and Justice Action League and former Democratic Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager, in addition to Doug Orr, who ran unsuccessfully against Knezovich last fall as a Republican, and state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley.
They say several recent high-profile cases involving use of force by Spokane County sheriff’s deputies, and a perceived lack of investigatory independence by the office’s Citizen Advisory Board, create a need for a body that is appointed by someone other than Knezovich.
“What we’re saying is, we need a system,” said Rick Eichstaedt, director of the Center for Justice and a petition organizer. “We’re saying, have a group that’s separate from the sheriff and can give him some cover, too.”
Knezovich said he had invited the Center for Justice in to observe the Citizen Advisory Board process, without a response. He also said he was wary of a process of appointment to a citizen review board that mimicked the city’s process, which has now gone eight months without selecting a new police ombudsman. Part of the delay resulted over the summer when the ombudsman’s chairman, Rachel Dolezal, was removed from the position by the City Council and two other members resigned – leaving the commission without enough members to conduct business.
The organization “melted down because it did not do background checks,” Knezovich said. He specifically mentioned Dolezal when referring to the failures of the commission. Dolezal was removed from the commission after revelations that she was representing herself as black, including on her commission application, even though she is white.
Eichstaedt said comparing the oversight of the police and the sheriff’s office was like “apples and oranges,” noting that the petition was not calling for a specific structure for civilian oversight of the sheriff’s office. A scandal in one office should not be grounds to avoid trying a similar system with other people, he said.
“We’ve had some bad elected officials, but does that mean we should give up representative government?” Eichstaedt said.
In October, Knezovich went before Spokane County commissioners and asked that Tim Burns, then-Spokane Police ombudsman, be allowed to perform similar duties for the Sheriff’s Office. That proposal went nowhere following last year’s election, and Knezovich said Tuesday that may have been for the best, given the turmoil that followed.
“Why would I want to join a failed system?” he said, adding that the main difference between the Spokane County Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Board and the Office of the Police Ombudsman is “we’re running, and they’re not.”
Eichstaedt said the petition aims for the same type of oversight the sheriff requested last year.
“I don’t see this as something that should be threatening to him,” Eichstaedt said. “It’s something he ran on.”
Knezovich said the same members of the public who are now calling for a system similar to the city’s criticized Burns for his oversight in a 2010 case involving the sheriff’s office. That case was the death of Wayne Scott Creach, a Spokane Valley pastor who was shot and killed outside his home in August 2010 by Deputy Brian Hirzel. Hirzel, who was driving an unmarked patrol vehicle, shot when he felt threatened by Creach, who was armed. No criminal charges resulted from multiple reviews of the incident.
Knezovich said he could support a review board appointed by someone other than himself, but he was concerned about the process becoming “political.”
“You have someone who is deciding the future and fate of a person, you want to make sure they don’t have integrity issues,” Knezovich said.
Petition supporters planned to deliver their signatures to Spokane County Commissioners this morning at the courthouse.
Recently appointed Spokane ombudsman commissioner AJ VanderPol said independent oversight remains important.
“How it’s happened might be a failure, but the concept, that’s public will,” VanderPol said. “The people want oversight. That’s a fact.”
Staff writer Rachel Alexander contributed to this report.
Posted By Jacob Jones on Wed, Jul 16, 2014 at 5:16 PM
Police accountability advocates today voiced several new concerns about the Spokane Police Department’s proposed usage policy for officer-worn body cameras, taking issue with vague recording requirements and a perceived lack of public input.
The Center for Justice issued a letter dated July 16, also signed by the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and other local groups, saying advocates found the latest draft policy insufficient to ensure body cameras would provide reliable oversight.
“Unfortunately,” the letter states, “the current version of the policy supports a purpose mostly of discretionary surveillance, not of transparency and accountability.”
A promotional photo of the chest-mounted Taser Axon Body camera Spokane Police will start wearing in September.
Advocates expressed the most concern with the rules defining what and when an officer must record. The proposed policy says “most” police encounters “shall” be recorded, but a section specifically listing many common, required interactions was removed. Read more >>
“Host Taylor Weech talks with Shar Lichty, organizer at the Peace and Justice Action League, about the upcoming rally and march “Stop the Spiral of Violence: End These Endless Wars” in Spokane and the issues of U.S. imperialism and cultural violence that will be addressed there. In the second half of the hour, they are joined by phone by Hakeem Bashir, a Gazan PhD student at Washington State University, who shares his perspective on the current violence directed at Gaza and how it fits into the overall story of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.” (Praxis Radio)
Posted By Taylor Weech on Sat, Jul 12, 2014 at 9:43 AM
Five days ago, when I interviewed Ayman Nijim, a Gazan masters student working on his degree in Vermont, the bombardment of his neighborhood and other major population centers in Gaza had barely begun. Since then, he has posted updates that tally the numbers of dead and wounded in his town and others in the besieged area and memorialized specific friends killed in the bombing. While the news we see here might portray the success of Israel in targeting Hamas specifically, the stream of images coming directly from Gaza tells a different story. An ambulance carrying wounded to a hospital that can’t sustain electricity for more than 12 hours a day targeted and destroyed; homes, churches, and stores bombed without warning; children dead in their parents’ arms or missing entire pieces of their bodies. Read more >>
Posted By Matt Weigand on Fri, Jun 20, 2014 at 9:09 AM
Approximately 30 Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane activists met on the median between Ruby and Division at North River Drive on Thursday during rush hour to protest the possible threat of bombing Iraq.
The group handed out fliers to motorists stopped at red lights, who gave a wide range of reactions to the protest, from supportive honks and waves to angry comments and obscene gestures.
“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday,” seemed to be the call of more than 100 protesters lined up to march in Spokane last week, seeking urgent immigration reform. “We have written letters, gone on hunger strikes, made phone calls and are marching again to send a message to Cathy McMorris Rodgers that this issue is important to the people she represents,” said Dr. Martin Meraz-Garcia from Eastern Washington University’s Chicano Education Program. “This is about having compassion for others. It’s a humanitarian issue we should all care about.”
While immigration reform is supported by more than 70 percent of Americans, the small gathering at last Thursday’s march suggests an underrepresentation of regional voters. “All people should understand that immigration reform is important, because these people are a part of our society and the backbone of our workforce,” said Jackie Vaughn, a leader of MEChA de EWU, a Chicano student group. “We need people to be proactive and not just passively supportive.” Key legislation overwhelmingly passed the Senate in 2013, but if that bill, S. 744, does not make it to a vote in the House by this August, the movement will suffer a major setback.
Even as some took the tone of a chapter closing, others left the council chambers thinking only of the work left to be done.
“I think we’re on the edge,” said local civil rights attorney Breean Beggs following an emotional city council meeting.
At its meeting Monday, the Spokane City Council approved a new contract agreement with the Spokane Police Guild, which raises officer pay 2 percent per year from 2012 to 2015, expands retirement benefits in 2016 and outlines some new roles for the Office of Police Ombudsman. After a unanimous rejection of the previous version of this agreement in November, Monday’s lone “no” vote was Councilman Mike Fagan, who called the agreement “too rich.” The agreement must still be approved by guild members.
The newest contract establishes a citizen commission to oversee the ombudsman, and allows that commission to order the ombudsman to do his own investigation if the ombudsman believes IA has not sufficiently investigated. (Ombudsman investigations must come after department decisions about officer discipline have been made.) The new agreement also allows the ombudsman to do preliminary investigations for the purpose of determining whether a complaint should go to IA and to publish closing reports about cases in which he is involved, as long as the reports do not include officers’ names.
Three more months of public debate, news conferences and negotiations have led to the Spokane City Council’s approval of a new police oversight law and union contract.
After unanimously rejecting a proposed Spokane Police Guild contract in November, the council approved a five-year labor contract Monday in a 6-1 vote. It also unanimously approved a law governing police officer oversight.
Council members said the deal and new law significantly improve citizen oversight of the Police Department, a dominating issue of city government at least since the 2006 death of Otto Zehm.
“If it’s not a perfect document, it’s damn close,” said City Councilman Steve Salvatori, who was one of the council members who led the charge last year to insert independent oversight into the City Charter.
City and Spokane Police Guild negotiators have reached a new tentative contract agreement they hope will satisfy the city council, which rejected an earlier agreement and has repeatedly called for more authority for the police ombudsman.
The new agreement maintains the current structure in which the ombudsman sits in on Internal Affairs investigations, but adds several new roles:
Where he previously forwarded all complaints of excessive force or “improper/inappropriate interaction with an officer” to IA, the ombudsman would now conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether to forward the complaint to IA. (Unless an officer is the one filing a complaint, the ombudsman cannot interview officers at this step.)
There was a moment last month when things seemed to be falling apart for Mayor David Condon.
The city council had, in a rushed emergency vote, unanimously rejected a contract agreement the mayor had spent 21 months hashing out with the Spokane Police Guild. Council members said it didn’t do enough to strengthen the city’s police ombudsman, whose power has been under scrutiny since the office was created in the aftermath of the death of Otto Zehm, an unarmed mentally ill man who died after a confrontation with Spokane police, landing an officer in federal prison.
Today, the ombudsman monitors misconduct investigations as an observer within the Internal Affairs process; many have called on the city to grant him the authority to investigate on his own outside of that process.
As a preface here, as I have done many times as my role as writer for DV, I have to default to the local, as in, where you see fault lines and bright lines in a local situation, you can pretty much make the larger microcosmic statement about many things for a state, region, country, culture, what have you.
The School to Prison Pipeline has been written about many, many times, and my hat goes off to some of those writers:
The production assistant from ABC’s 20/20 team thought he’d found a story in Coeur d’Alene. Supposedly, school district teachers there had begun carrying concealed handguns to protect against school shooters.
It was only when he called the district that he learned he’d been duped. The story was completely made up — his source turned out to be a satirical online newspaper similar to The Onion. But the truth wasn’t so far off. After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary last December, two different camps demanded solutions. Gun control advocates said it was finally time for new legislation to rein in the availability and power of assault weapons. The NRA called for schools to add more armed personnel, reasoning that only a “good guy with a gun” could stop a “bad guy with a gun.”
As gun control attempts fizzled nationwide, many schools have pursued the NRA’s option. The Coeur d’Alene school district added additional police officers in the schools and spent $3,390 to install six gun safes in school offices, giving officers powerful rifles that can shoot accurately down long hallways. Spokane Public Schools plans to arm its security officers for the first time. And in Sandpoint, a school board member’s proposal to use armed volunteers — or even gun-toting teachers — has triggered contentious school board meetings and a recall campaign..
In this week’s issue, we have a story on the lengthy, and increasingly bizarre, struggle to empower Spokane’s Office of Police Ombudsman. Police accountability advocates have long pushed for independent investigative powers for the office, but the city’s contract with the Spokane Police Guild hasn’t allowed such powers, and negotiations over the last 21 months to establish the next contract have been completely confidential.
That has left advocates and city council members, who say they also favor stronger police ov ersight, in an awkward and frustrating position. Councilman Steve Salvatori initially planned to take matters into his own hands, sponsoring an ordinance to empower the ombudsman despite ongoing negotiations. (Earlier this year, the council passed the same thing as a resolution, urging the administration to bargain for such powers in a new agreement.) Then, the city announced last week it has reached a tentative agreement with the guild (which remains confidential until a guild vote) and council members backed away from Salvatori’s effort, saying Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub urged them to hold off. The vote Monday put off most of the significant changes to the ombudsman office, with frustrations further elevated by claims from the Center for Justice that they’ve seen the tentative agreement and it does not include independent investigative powers for the ombudsman. The whole thing brought a somber tone to council chambers and plenty of public testimony.
In a new program to track police interactions and deter racial profiling, Spokane Police officers will start packing statistic forms while out patrolling their beats next year. Every time an officer questions a citizen or makes a traffic stop, the officer will have to fill out a short data form, noting the person’s race, location and other details.
With just a handful of questions, each individual form offers minimal insight, but combined with thousands of other data records on contacts across the city, the Spokane Police Department hopes to compile an unprecedented look into how its officers interact with citizens on a daily basis.
Cmdr. Brad Arleth, who has overseen the development of the program, says many metro-sized law enforcement agencies have logged similar race data for years. Amid ongoing national debate over the role of race in “stop and frisk,” gang enforcement and other targeted policing strategies, tracking who Spokane officers engage on the street can provide telling clues about how race may factor into local policing decisions.
Spokane City Council members voted unanimously Monday to create a new citizen Police Ombudsman Commission to oversee future investigations of officer misconduct and police performance.
Council members backed away from a proposal to empower the existing police ombudsman to conduct independent investigations.
An announcement last week that the mayor’s office has reached a tentative labor agreement with the Spokane Police Guild caused council members to back away from stronger ombudsman language – at least for the time being.
Armed employees will be in our schools beginning January 2014. That’s when Spokane Public Schools will become one of only two districts in the state to take this drastic measure to combat potential violence. Ironic, isn’t it, that 13 peace officers will trade their diplomacy for tools of destruction.
Where is the outrage at the continued increase in the militarization of our society? I believe there are many alternatives to arming employees and hope that most in Spokane agree with me.
If you do, please join the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and other concerned citizens in protest of this madness. We will be voicing our concerns at the Spokane Public Schools board meeting on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m.
Earlier today, we reported that the Spokane Police Guild and city administration have reached a tentative agreement about a new police contract, but few details about its content were available.
Now, local police accountability advocates say they’ve seen the section of the agreement that outlines police oversight and they’re not satisfied.
Center for Justice Executive Director Rick Eichstaedt and Communications Director Tim Connor say City Councilman Steve Salvatori showed them the portion of the contract regarding the Office of Police Ombudsman and that it does not include long-desired independent investigative powers for the office.
That, the group says, flies in the face of voter-approved Proposition 1, calling for a stronger ombudsman, and the Use of Force Commission’s recommendations.
Lucia Vazquez’s tears didn’t begin flowing until she and more than 100 other women seated themselves in the road near the steps of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I was crying because I just saw how many women were risking going to jail,” the 24-year-old Eastern Washington University graduate said.
Vazquez participated in the largest civil disobedience demonstration to date pressuring Congress to pass a full-scale overhaul of the nation’s immigration policies.
On Sept. 12, she and 114 other women blocked traffic on Capitol Hill in an attempt to force the House of Representatives to take up a legislative package passed by the U.S. Senate in June. Gestating under the gaze of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators and representatives since January, the legislation would beef up border security, increase the number of visas available for temporary workers and create a new “pathway to citizenship” for immigrants living in the United States illegally.
From behind the wheel of a rental car on the edge of Chicago, Spokane City Councilman Steve Salvatori sounds tired. He’s on vacation, but his mind is at City Hall.
“I’m worn out. I’m ready to go,” Salvatori says in his signature no-nonsense tone. “The bananas are turning brown.”
Salvatori says he’s “out of excuses” for citizens who ask why Proposition 1, a measure passed overwhelmingly in February to give the Office of Police Ombudsman expanded powers, hasn’t yet resulted in actual changes. The city says such changes — among them, independent investigative powers and a commission to choose future ombudsmen — will be included in a new contract with the Spokane Police Guild, but the two sides haven’t reached one in 20 months of negotiations. As it stands, the ombudsman can sit in on the department’s Internal Affairs investigations, but can’t launch his own. The proposition outlined expanded powers and mandated that future police contracts allow for them.
Now Salvatori plans to bring forward an ordinance implementing the powers outlined in Proposition 1, despite arguments that such changes have to happen through negotiations. (He’ll present it to a council committee Monday and for a vote by the end of the month.)
Politically, it seems an easy move: Proposition 1 passed with 70 percent of the vote in a city where the public, the police chief and the mayor say they favor more oversight. But a similar move a few years ago ended in an unfair labor practices complaint and a state decision that sided with the guild. For Salvatori, the risk is worth it.
The Inland Northwest congressional delegation is treading softly as President Barack Obama seeks authorization to use a big stick in response to charges that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people.
U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican serving on the Senate’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee, said he was reluctant to authorize any military action despite the “awful” and “horrendous” conditions in the country. During a committee meeting Tuesday, Risch questioned Secretary of State John Kerry about the country’s response if Russia, Iran, Israel and other regional actors embroiled themselves in the conflict.
“Probably the more likely actor would be Hezbollah,” Risch said, referring to the militant branch of Shiite Islam based in Lebanon that has aligned itself with the ruling regime. “They’re in that country fighting for Assad.”
As a health teacher at Lakes Middle School in Coeur d’Alene, Warren Ducote saw firsthand the effect of poverty on students’ emotional and physical well-being.
“You see the depression, the anger that’s built up inside, the kids acting up and being unable to focus on school,” Ducote said.
Ducote joined religious, education and community activists Saturday morning in Coeur d’Alene’s Riverstone Park to kick off a voter initiative that would raise Idaho’s minimum wage from the federal minimum, $7.25 per hour, to $9.80 per hour over the next four years. The group, led by Anne Nesse, thinks Idaho’s meager compensation compared to other states is a moral issue that needs to be handled by voters rather than the Legislature.
The discussion over what to do with the budget has been blanketing newspapers and airwaves for quite some time now. Several plans are jockeying to see how much we can cut without amputating some large portion of the voting public. As a combat veteran, I’m aware of the difficulty in making triage decisions. This is why I now fight to make sure all veterans receive the lifelines they need. Preserving and strengthening Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and care for returning service members needs to be a top priority.
While serving in Iraq, I suffered injuries that forced me to leave the line of work I’d trained for. Since my return, I’ve worked with supportive networks to counsel returning service members who, like me, have physical and mental health issues. One of the chief concerns that veterans raise is the ability to care for themselves and their families now, and in the future.
Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress are pushing budgets that directly attack the programs that Americans’ lives depend on: Medicare and Medicaid. Now, the president wants to weaken Social Security. All of this is in the guise of deficit reduction.
There’s no need to slash these programs, which help drive our economy, generate jobs and deliver health care to millions, including tens of thousands of veterans. Read more »
Highlights, history and analysis from Thursday’s news conference announcing the submission of a newly proposed Police Ombudsman Ordinance for the City of Spokane by the Center for Justice and the Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane. Includes and interview with Liz Moore, Director of PJALS.
When Myrta Ladich toured the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem last May, she saw a photo of family of her closest friend during college and her early years of marriage. The photo brought tears to her eyes.
Myrta has long been attuned to the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust.
Her friend came to Seattle at the age of 18, having fled communist rule in Hungary by walking to Vienna. She had survived the Holocaust as a child at the age of six. Most of her family were killed in Auschwitz.
Before joining the May 18 to 31 delegation of 30, visiting through Interfaith Peacebuilders, Myrta knew her Jewish friend, who now lives in California, is appalled at what Israel’s government does to Palestinians.
As citizens streamed forward to the microphone Monday, Councilman Steve Salvatori looked out to the audience and down at his hands, long-faced and exasperated.
“Transparency is awkward until your eyes adjust to the light,” Salvatori told the group, carefully choosing his words to explain an ordinance he championed that was now a shell of its former self.
Though Salvatori initially introduced an ordinance that would have granted far-reaching independence to the city’s Office of Police Ombudsman, the version approved Monday simply established a citizen commission to oversee the office, putting on hold provisions like the authority to conduct independent investigations of police actions. After 21 months of police contract negotiations and a ballot measure to add the strengthened ombudsman to the City Charter, the move began as an attempt to bypass or speed up secret guild negotiations. Then, late last week, the city administration announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the guild, but wouldn’t discuss any details publicly until guild members pass the agreement and it goes to the council for consideration. Councilmembers were briefed in executive session last week about the agreement, leaving them in the awkward position of knowing what the contract grants the ombudsman but not being able to discuss it — even as they voted on an ordinance about the ombudsman.