Coincidentally, the day after I started a new blog — Spokane Hidden Police Cameras — a story hit the airwaves in Spokane. It told of the kind of brutal crime that makes one stop and wonder what has happened to humanity. The sort of story about which people comment to total strangers on the bus or in the lunch room at work. The type of incident which leaves many clear in a belief that “of course surveillance cameras are a good thing”.
On Wednesday, July 1, 2009, in our fare town, someone grabbed a dog named Cocoa Butter out of a car near the Spokane City Hall and threw the little Shih Tzu up against the brick building, seriously injuring, though not killing, the animal. A hidden camera of the Spokane Police Department caught the crime on video. Thank goodness. Due to the cameras, a suspect is being sought by Spokane Police and an arrest is likely. In any future prosecution of the suspect, Michael Jones, age 20, the video will obviously be of importance. Jones faces charges of 1st Degree Animal Cruelty, a Class C Felony.
On March 18, 2006, in our fare town, seven Spokane Police officers participated in a brutal crime against a totally innocent young man, Otto Zehm. Store cameras caught the horrendous crime on video. Thank goodness. Still, two days later, Zehm, a gentle though mentally ill young man, died in a Spokane hospital without ever regaining consciousness. Despite the cameras, no arrests have been made and a successful prosecution is doubtful, notwithstanding the grand jury indictment on the June 22, 2009 of Officer Karl Thompson. (In fact, the taxpayers of Spokane are on the hook for at least $200,000 for the legal defense of Thompson who is now on paid leave). In the video, Thompson, within 16 seconds of entering the store, initiated the first baton blow on Zehm, the start of an assault by police which did not end until he had been further beaten, tasered, hogtied, and suffocated. The result of the assault on Zehm was what the county coroner on May 30, 2006, ruled a homicide with the cause of death being reported as “lack of oxygen to the brain due to heart failure while being restrained on his stomach.”
[Watch the Zehm store video footage, listen to the 911 call, and hear the police radio traffic at http://www.khq.com/global/story.asp?S=5153579 ]
The two stories — one involving a brutally beaten small dog and the other a much more severally beaten and brutalized defenseless and innocent man — raise a number of questions about the use of surveillance cameras by law enforcement. These questions should be looked at closely and intensely considered about before the people of Spokane or any community quietly and easily accept the slow creep of police state surveillance practices.
In the case of Zehm, the cameras in question were not controlled by the police. However, the use of the video was. Initially, access to the video material was denied to the public and the media. From the very start, the legal system — the police chief, the deputy chief, and the prosecutor’s office — successfully attempted to control the material and the public’s perception of the crime. All immediately began to spin, distort, and lie about the information contained on the video tape. Eventually, at first under pseudonyms and pretending to be civilians, the most vocal and unrepentant of the officers involved in the murder of Zehm, Officer Dan Torok, and certain ranking officers on the force began to participate in public forums — Frank Sennett’s Hard 7 blog and other Spokesman Review blogs — as if the impunity that law enforcement has long held in Spokane was a matter of certainty in this outrageous crime as well. Sadly, the people of Spokane largely played along with script, being incapable of mounting the sort of response that most decent communities manage to put together when such a tragedy occurs to a gentle soul like Zehm — a small but prominent public memorial of candles, photos, flowers, and tears at a spot near the scene of the tragedy.
So what does this have to do with surveillance cameras? Little. However it provides a starting point for looking at abuse of authority and the sacred pubic trust in the context of the modern police state and its use of highly sophisticated technologies which violate privacy and operate around the clock. In the Zehm case, the Spokane Police Department could not be trusted to use the technology with the kind of integrity which the public has a right to expect and which the sacred nature of constitutional protections demands.
An isolated case? Not in the least.
Besides the Zehm case, at least four other recent cases come to mind. Readers of this blog are invited to comment here and/or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to remind me of other incidents. These four are:
1) The Firehouse Sex Scandal
2) The July 4, 2007 Riverfront Park episode
3) The June 2007 Alberto Gonzalez visit
4) The Uberagua sex crime
In brief, here is the relevant aspect of each of these incidents.
The Firehouse Sex Scandal — In 2006, two Spokane Police Detectives ordered a Spokane fireman to destroy the evidence of a crime from his digital camera. The fireman, who was eventually forced to resign, had taken photographs while having sex on-duty with a minor girl in a Spokane city firehouse. The detectives — in a staggering act of corruption and lying — subsequently argued in their own defense that they were protecting the privacy of the girl. In fact, they were acting on the age old prerogative to protect members of the fraternity of power by illegal means, i.e., covering up, falsifying, lying, and, in this case, and destroying evidence. In summary, Spokane Police, when given the opportunity to use photographic technology in furtherance of the public order, used it to subvert the public good and to achieve the ends of their own subculture, their own fraternity of power.
The Uberagua sex crime — On October 11, 2007, a purportedly “respected” member of the Spokane Police Department and deputized member of a DEA Drug Task Force, allegedly raped a woman at a Spokane valley bar while on a drinking break with Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputies. He also photographed her breasts. As one would expect, the woman subsequently recanted the rape. One can easily imagine the sympathetic response she no doubt received from Uberagua’s fellow law “enforcement” officers “investigating” the matter. The taxpayer paid Uberagua’s salary for many months after the incident. Many issues come to mind beyond just the question of exactly happened between Uberagua and the woman: her state of sobriety or non-sobriety at the time, the power differential involved, the question of Uberagua judgment and his fitness for the force, the fact that he was driving a SPD vehicle while under the influence, etc. And then there is that camera. What was Uberagua doing taking a picture of the woman’s breasts? Evidence of crime or evidence of a conquest to share with Sheriff and DEA Task Force buddies?
The July 4, 2007 Riverfront Park incident — On this infamous day when the country celebrates to a degree not warranted by its history of hypocrisies and abuses, seventeen irreverent but lawful young people were provoked, assaulted and arrested in what Gonzaga University professor of philosophy Tom Jeannot called “a near police riot”. In reality, this incident is a case study of police misuse of power. A long list of concerns come to mind from issues of infiltration and spying, to improper training and misunderstanding of the public’s right to public space and constitution freedoms all the way to police provocation and police lying in their reports of events. However, the most important part of this incident in terms of the use of surveillance cameras did not surface until 10 months later when a courageous young man — Michael Lyons — went to court against the Spokane Police Department and the City of Spokane to defend himself against misdemeanor charges of riot. Just as the trial was about to begin on May 5, 2008, a Spokane Police employee raced into the courtroom and announced that, lo and behold, some video footage of the July 4 events had suddenly “been discovered” and handed the DVD of the footage over to the court. The outraged judge dismissed the case, ironically denying the opportunity for the multiple injustices of July 4 to come before the court and the public. In fact, it is possible that faced with the disclosure of the extent of police misconduct and espionage against legally assembled citizens, the police chose to trash the case and provoke a miscarriage by turning over hidden evidence at the last moment. The Spokesman-Review in an article on 5/19/2008 reported that the videos taken by the Spokane Police and other law enforcement under the direction of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force did not back the police account of the events of July 4, 2007.
So the issue is not whether or not cameras placed all over the city by Chief Kirkpatrick’s happy band of homicidal sex offenders will actually catch people in the act of committing a crime or picking their noses, but whether or not the Chief — not without her own ethical challenges — and a police department with a long history of corrupt and criminal conduct should be entrusted in any way with unilateral powers to place and control cameras where ever and whenever they choose and, subsequently, to determine whether to use that information in a lawful and constitutional manner.
Any reading of the history of the Spokane Police Department leads to the conclusion that in the current configuration of its chain of authority, a chain from which the people of Spokane are excluded and without effective oversight, the Spokane Police can not and should not be permitted to exercise control over cameras in the public commons.
In conclusion, do you want the likes of SPD officers Jim Faddis, Dan Torok, and Jay Mehrig (with a jug band, two homicides, and a threat to kill a wife among the three of them) to have video footage of your wife, or daughter, or teenage children, or yourself, footage taken, at their whim and with their defective sense of right and wrong, with the hidden cameras increasingly proliferating across our little corner of what was once upon a time called the “land of the free”?
(This article was written by David Brookbank)
[Your suggestions on editing this article or corrections are appreciated at SpokaneHiddenPoliceCameras@gmail.com]