SPD Officer Jason Uberuaga fired for “conduct unbecoming”
Posted by Arroyoribera on January 27, 2008
[Comment from blog author: The Uberuaga incident has all the indicators of an initiation into a police club or unit. As in, “Make sure she is drunk so that her allegations can’t hold water, you have to do it in an official vehicle, and you have to bring back evidence, such as a photo of her breasts on your cell phone.” Please send your thoughts and comments on this scenario to email@example.com ]
Jason Uberuaga —
- 1997 Gonzaga University graduate and star baseball player (All-West Coast League Honorable Mention)
- joined the Spokane Police Department in 1998
- decorated Spokane Police officer who teamed with Sgt. Dan Torok in the March 2006 killing-by-cop of Otto Zehm
- deputized member of DEA Regional Drug Task Force
- member of the Spokane Dodgers of Men’s Senior League Baseball (The MSLB slogan is “Don’t go soft, play hardball!”)
On October 11, 2007, apparently finding his life not sufficiently interesting, Uberuaga decided to engage in some “conduct unbecoming” of an officer and found himself accused of rape (video). Uberuaga’s law enforcement colleagues maintained the solidity of the “thin blue line“, concluding that the victim’s story was inconsistent and thus deciding not to charge Uberuaga.
On January 23, 2008, Uberuaga was fired by the Chief of Police of Spokane who concluded that Uberuaga had engaged in “conduct unbecoming” of an officer when he used his cell phone to photograph the woman’s breasts, had sex with her, and drove his patrol vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Uberuaga had been bar hopping with other Spokane law enforcement officers at the time.
Still, the odds are that the system will come to the rescue of Uberuaga.
Many still remember another recent moment in the storied annals of Spokane area law enforcement. On June 16, 2006, Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Mastel exposed himself to a barista at an expresso stand in Airway Heights, a couple miles west of Spokane. Like Uberuaga, Mastel was terminated for “conduct unbecoming” of an officer. Subsequently, the Spokane County Civil Service Commission reinstated Mastel and ruled he could collect his pension in full. No less a friend of law enforcement than anonymous blogger “Spokane Valley Insider” has opined that Mastel’s offense was a “more serious offense compared to having sex with a willing participant in a private parking lot of a privately owned business” and does not believe that “Uberuaga’s termination fits the offense”.
Spokane Valley Insider goes on to write:
(quote) I would be surprised if his termination holds up. Uberuaga is guilty of making a bad decision. He doesn’t deserve to be a part of a task force if he is going to drive the company car to taverns and use the company phone to take topless photos of women. But is that conduct unbecoming? Should his actions that night determine his future and wipe out the spotless record including awards of merit he has received during this ten years of service? Uberuaga should be suspended without pay for 30-60 days, relieved of his task force detail, and required to remain on patrol for an indefinite amount of time. He should also be docked a step in salary. (end quote)
A few clarifications are in order.
First, Uberuaga is at the least guilty of making several bad decisions, not just one. According to published reports, bar patrons watched Uberuaga go out to the parking lot and engage in what essentially became a public act of sex in the vehicle. He and his law enforcement buddies hit more than one bar that afternoon. He drove the patrol vehicle under the influence of alcohol, which the Chief had specifically forbidden.
Second, Uberuaga was not the only law enforcement official involved in the cavorting with reports indicating that the his accompanied by Spokane County Sheriff Deputies.
Third, Uberuaga does not have a spotless record, in that the matter of the homicide of Otto Zehm (in which Uberuaga was one of seven Spokane cops participating in the killing along with the notorious Sgt. Dan Torok) is still open with both an FBI probe and the followup Mike Worley report still pending.
Fourth, Uberuaga — whose salary in 2002 was $61,475 — has been paid throughout these 3 1/2 months despite early admissions on his part regarding the “conduct unbecoming” on October 11, 2007.
(Note: Read Spokane County Board of Commissioners’ response to Civil Service Commission reinstatement decision on Mastel)
One similarity between both the Uberuaga and Mastel cases is their “blame the victim” strategy. Both cops put the blame on the woman involved, with Mastel claiming that the barista “led me on” and Uberuaga claiming that the his activities were consensual.
Spokane seems to have a serious problem of lack of accountability by law enforcement. Two other cases come immediately to mind. In the Firehouse Sex Scandal, two Spokane Police detectives (Sgt. Joe Peterson and Sgt. Neil Gallion) “instructed” a Spokane fireman to delete photos of a teenage girl with whom he had engaged in sexual activity. In another case, SPD officer Dave Freitag allowed 65-year-old level three sex offender Thomas Hermann to resided in the basement of his home and stored the convicted felon’s firearms (Hermann was among 22 suspects arrested in the U.S. as part of an international child pornography investigation.)
In all four cases, the total number of officers arrested was…? You guessed it. Zero.