Citizen Review Commission is NOT the answer to independent oversight
Posted by Arroyoribera on October 11, 2007
On September 22, 2006, hoping to make good on her solemn promise to bring honesty and transparency to police work in Spokane, Chief Kirkpatrick undertook the task of breathing life into the moribund Citizens Review Commission (CRC).
For some reason the Chief decided that of all the cases she might have chosen to send to the Citizens Review Commission it would be wise to send them the controversial case of Spokane Police Lieutenant Judi Carl, the Spokane Police officer who while off-duty used vulgarities in an incident late on the night of June 4, 2006, in north Spokane. Two of Lt. Carl’s children were among a group of teens roaming a crime-stricken neighborhood very late at night who were confronted by Danny Roske.
After receiving the case from Chief Kirkpatrick, the CRC met twice behind closed doors — in apparent violation of public open meetings laws and despite a protest by a Spokesman Review reporter — before concluding that they had no jurisdiction to act on the matter.
Apparently unbeknownst to Chief Kirkpatrick, her staff and her attorneys, the fact that disciplinary action had previously been taken against Lt. Carl regarding the incident — a perfunctory one day suspension given Lt. Carl by Acting Chief Nicks — meant that the Citizen Review Commission had no jurisdiction over the matter. The Chief, who in addition to being the city’s chief cop is also an attorney, was quoted by the Spokesman-Review as admitting, “I may have misread the ordinance”.
In an interesting aside, for unexplained reason, SPD internal affairs officials Lt. Dave Richards and Sgt. Jim Faddis were also present and involved in these closed executive sessions of the CRC. (Note: Faddis is the SPD officer who identifies himself variously as “Kevin” and “Jim” when he anonymously comments, along with other ‘anonymous’ law enforcement officials, on blogs such as Hard7 and at the Spokesman-Review’s online forums.)
Some 10 days later, on October 13, 2006, in partial fulfillment of a contract with the City of Spokane, police consultant and former Meridian (Idaho) police chief Mike Worley submitted to Mayor Dennis Hession a devastatingly critical report on both the Citizen Review Commission as well as the SPD/Firehouse Sex Scandal. In the report released to the public by Hession on 10/26/06, Worley made two primary recommendations regarding the CRC: 1) That “the Commission be authorized to review any case wherein review is requested by a citizen complaint following Police Department investigation, regardless of the disciplinary outcome of the case” (Worley, pg 4); and 2) That “the representation of the Police Department labor groups on the Citizens Review Commission should be eliminated” (Worley, pg 5). Overall, Worley’s 44-page report makes 16 extensive recommendations on reforming the internal affairs process of the Spokane Police Department.
Worley’s report is highly critical of the SPD on the issues of both the Citizen Review Commission and the SPD/Firehouse Sex Scandal. He deferred until a later date his assessment of the death of Otto Zehm, writing that he would complete that portion of the report after other investigations were complete. To my knowledge, one and a half years after his death, there is no closure on the case. Zehm died after being being beaten, tasered, hog-tied and suffocated in an incident involving seven SPD officers. Zehm’s death was ruled a homicide by the Spokane County Coroner’s office.
Chief Kirkpatrick has been quoted as saying that “(Worley’s) review, I think, has been thorough, has been independent, has been complete, and has been fair”. One can only speculate on whether or not this praise from the Chief — subsequently quoted by Worley on his company’s testimonials page — had anything to do with the footnote in Worley’s report in which Worley states his full support for Chief Kirkpatrick’s desire to keep for herself all disciplinary power and discretion in dealing with police internal investigations. (The word “independent” found in the quote on Worley’s website is not found in the Spokesman-Review article in which it was reported. After commentary by me on this blog regarding the propriety of Kirkpatrick’s quote being used to promote Worley’s company on his website — especially with the Otto Zehm portion of his report still incomplete — the testimonials page along with Kirkpatrick’s quote disappeared. This is a cached copy of that page).
Though the referral of the Lt. Carl matter to the CRC represented the first of several gaffs by Kirkpatrick since she took over as Spokane Police chief, the Chief can perhaps be forgiven since she is not the only person who has been incapable of resurrecting the Commission. Clearly in retrospect the Chief was no more successful at this than she would have been either had she tried to bring back Josh Levy after the recently botched taser sneak attack on Levy by her officers and his resulting death.
For much of the last 10 years the Commission has been headed by a minister, Lonnie Mitchell, who has also been unable to raise the Commission from the dead. Not only has Mitchell been unable to resurrect the commission, he has not even been able to convene it because, during all those years — reportedly — the city never sent the Commission a case. The fact that Mitchell or other members of the Commission did not raise their voices to the high heavens as the SPD killed citizen after citizen under questionable circumstances and engaged in racial profiling, in addition to committing a range of other misconduct, speaks both to the backbone of Mitchell and the other Commissioners as well as the culture of citizen silence in Spokane.
As S-R associate editor Gary Crooks suggested on 9/26/06 in response to a defensive comment by frequent poster SPD detective Dan Torok on the S-R’s ‘News is a Conversation’ on-line forum, the CRC long-ago fell under the battlecry of the “good ole boy” system.
It is abundantly clear now that beyond its lack of any independent mandate or authority, the Spokane Citizens Review Commission (CRC) — composed of a “qualified” member of the Police Guild, a “qualified” member of the Police Lieutenants & Captains Association, and 4 citizens, as well as staff composed of a police Lieutenant and the city attorney — is very little “citizen”, zero “review”, and, taking into consideration its vague and extremely constrained mandate, unable to act upon any “commission” given it by the people the Spokane.
Really, this is all turning into a truly boneheaded charade.
First of all, 83-year-old Marie Yates, the so-called “qualified” member of the Police Lieutenants and Captains Association, publicly declared the citizen presenting the Lt. Judi Carl matter to the CRC, Bob DeMotte, an “ass” after the Commission’s first meeting in years in September 2006. Yates had earlier questioned the legitimacy of DeMotte even being involved in the matter, calling him “someone from California”.
So Yates, who called a complaining citizen an “ass”, would have been called upon to render a judgment on the use of vulgarities by a Spokane Police officer. I am not the first person to question how “qualified” Yates is at this point. A year ago Yates’ appropriateness was called into question by Frank Sennett who asked in his Hard7 blog, “How professional and unbiased is our highly regarded Citizens Review Commission when it comes to handling complaints of police misconduct?” In response to Yates self assessment that “I have a lot of regard for the police, but I’m fair,” Sennett responded, “Yes, as fair and unbiased as Fox News…”
In their extensive and thorough June 25, 2006 article “Police Oversight on Trial” on the history and failures of police oversight in Spokane, Bill Morlin and Jody Lawrence-Turner of the Spokesman-Review wrote of Yates and her consistently pro-police stance:
(quote) Marie Yates, 83, was one of Mangan’s original appointees. A police ally and volunteer at the COPS Southeast office who once helped purchase a police dog for the force, Yates said she was embarrassed to be on Barnard’s panel “because it had too many members who were critical of the police.”
The next chief, Bragdon, reappointed her to the slot representing police captains and lieutenants. Yates still serves on the current commission. (end quote)
Yates has been deeply involved in police matters for years, serving simultaneously on both the Citizen Review Commission and the Police Advisory Committee as well as having been a COPS volunteer for nearly 12 years. As a current member of the CRC Yates would be called upon to render judgment on matters of police conduct. Yet as a current member also of the Police Advisory Committee she advises and assists the police. As if this is not enough, Yates represents the Police Lieutenants and Captains Association. As the article by Morlin and Lawrence-Turner points out, it was the Police Lieutenants and Captains Association which filed a labor relations action against the city and forced the dissolution in 1995 of the first Citizens Advisory Commission in Spokane. Perhaps all this is indication that Yates is no longer (or perhaps was never) “qualified”.
Nevertheless, disappointingly and troubling, the Spokane City Council’s two female members motioned and seconded and the entire Council voted unanimously on August 10, 2007, to give Yates another year on the Citizens’ Review Commission. According to the minutes of that Spokane City Council meeting as published in the August 23, 2007 edition of the Official Gazette of the City of Spokane (vol. 96, no. 34):
(quote) Motion by Council Member Verner, seconded by Council Member McLaughlin, to confirm the Mayor’s re-appointments of Ms. Marie Yates, Police Lieutenants and Captains Representative, with her term to begin immediately and end March 31, 2008, and Mr. Robert Byrne, Police Guild Representative, with his term to begin immediately and end December 31, 2010. Motion carried unanimously. (end quote)
And of course, the City Council did this despite the clear recommendation 10 months earlier in Mike Worley’s $8800 tax-payer paid report of October 13, 2006, that “the representation of the Police Department labor groups on the Citizens Review Commission should be eliminated.” In fact, despite Worley’s high-priced recommendations, the City Council also voted to re-codify the ordinance on the membership of the commission on March 6, 2007, setting the stage for the re-appointments of Yates and Byrne.
So where does this leave us in October 2007, two and a half years after the brutal killing of Otto Zehm by SPD officers, eight months after the death of Jerome Alford at the hands of Officer Dan Torok, and three months after the SPD Tactical Units attack on protesters in Riverfront Park, in addition to numerous other cases?
The Spokesman Review has quoted Chief Kirkpatrick as saying, “We need a system that allows me to open up our agency. I know that’s a priority for the community.” She pledged to have a plan for reforming the police oversight process by early 2007.
Likewise, Mayor Hession had said that he intended to see an oversight mechanism in place by early 2007.
Still we have nothing. Police misconduct and abuses continue unabated. While COPS TV follows the SPD around town filming the stellar performance, police officers are calling the homeless “shitbags” and threatening to put community professionals in the back of their patrol cars for asking for their badge numbers.
Any plan to deal with police oversight and control is now delayed due to negotiations with the Spokane Police Guild. Information on those negotiations and the presentation of the agreement to the city council is virtually impossible to obtain. Most people concerned about the matter believe that the agreement will not be brought to the broad public prior to being run through the City Council for approval which will then be presented to the public via the media as a ‘fait accompli’.
The Chief needs to understand one thing.
We, the people, will open up the SPD.
Her efforts to manipulate police accountability in Spokane by trying to breath life into this moribund, long defunct, and thoroughly discredited Commission at this very late date in the game is a disgrace, as much a disgrace as was her attempt to subvert the justice system in the case of the July 4 protesters with her Chat/Forum on September 19, 2007.
The Chief should simply give it up.
This is not for her to decide or to fix. She is a late comer to the scene of a long-standing battle between the rights of the community versus presumed rights of the police.
The Chief should just sit back, do her job, enjoy her runs in the park and eat her peanut butter sandwiches. The people of Spokane will straighten this out.
The Chief should not further damage her own credibility trying to out think and manipulate this process.
The Chief has numerous arsons to solve on the West Side (I feel compelled once again to remind her that the West Side is that part of Spokane immediately outside and directly to the west of the Public Safety Building)?
Then there are those officer misconduct matters still pending. For ex., remember, Chief, the officer who recently called the homeless in a park “shit bags” after which he threatened to place a community professional in the back of his patrol car if she insisted on him giving her his badge number?
And of course, there are untold myriad police matters of concern to the citizenry of Spokane, and more than a few lawsuits to work on and worry about. Not to mention the $1,000,000 lawsuit against the city courtesy of FOP (Friend of Police) Marie Yates.
Yes, Chief, I know. A lot of what the people of Spokane are asking of you doesn’t require the glory work of training with AR-15s for some imagined gangland war or playing along with President Bush’s national security fantasies with mock terrorism simulations at the Federal Building.
Could we just get an officer to respond — appropriately, respectfully, without foul mouthed vulgarities, and without unjustified use of force — to the everyday situations that we experience in our lives and neighborhoods?
It’s a lot to ask, I know, with the legacy and culture you inherited at the SPD. We hired you to manage that culture and tangle with that legacy until you brought it under your control.
Let the people and the politicians set up the mechanism to monitor things when you can’t control it and when public outrage demands it.
For my part and for many with whom I have spoken, the Commission is not the answer. If it were, it would have met regarding Otto Zehm. It would have met over Jerome Alford. It would have met over Shonto Pete. It would have met over your officer calling the homeless “shitbags”. Should I continue the list?
Clearly, your efforts to rehabilitate the Commission in September 2006 with the assignment of the case of Lt. Judi Carl backfired. Your reason for attempting to rehabilitate the Commission is clear — a commission is unlikely to ever find against your officers. I mean, come on Chief, Marie Yates — representing the Police Lieutenants and Captains Association — called the first citizen to bring a case before the Commission in 10 years an “ass”.
And finally, I have to ask you a question, Chief.
What are we, the people of Spokane, to make of the fact that between the Citizen Review Commission (CRC) and the Police Advisory Committee (PAC) we have 7 police officers, a city attorney, a representative of the Police Guild, and — on both the CRC and the PAC — the ever present Marie Yates, representing the Police Lieutenants and Captains Association?
Is there a perhaps a certain lack of trust by the police in the people’s judgment and wisdom?
Of course, there is. The people could not be left alone with something so important as discussing their concerns about the police now, could they?
Any astute and honest outsider looking at either of these two bodies — the Police Advisory Committee and the Citizens Review Commission — would have to ask if they are composed of citizens who truly represent communities, if they are citizens with a backbone, and if they are other than seekers of their own access and prestige.
As recently as February 2007 in a forum on Police Accountability sponsored by the ACLU and the League of Women Voters, long-time PAC chairman Rick Mendoza went so far as to proclaim publicly that the Spokane Police Department is “the best police department in the United States”. And NAACP President V. Ann Smith (also now a member of the Police Advisory Committee) stated at the same event that there is no longer a problem with racial profiling in Spokane. The comments by both raise serious questions about their current connection to the base of their respective communities.
How about this as a plan of action for this your second year, Chief — no more public relations campaigns, no more COPS TV, no more trying to manipulate the public, no more cooking of statistics, no more disrespecting the community, no more excessive use of force, no more we-know-better-than-the-people, no more gang propaganda, no more large-scale purchases of high caliber para-military weaponry.
How about straight forward police work. Arsons, thefts, domestic violence, DUIs, etc.
And when your officers mess up or violate community standards, betray the public trust, or use excessive force, a mechanism of oversight and review of the communities choosing — not of the police department’s choosing — will help to sort it out.
The Boise Ombudsman model remains an excellent example of what Spokane could have.
The Citizens Review Commission remains the example of precisely what we can no longer afford.
For the sake of justice, for the sake of our reputation, for the sake of the lives the community has lost to excess and/or unjustifiable force.
In Memoriam — Otto Zehm (1970 – 2006)
Otto Zehm — Guitarist, Gentle Lion, Golden Heart
(J. Craig Sweat Photography)