Following is the powerful testimony of Terri Anderson about the 2001 murder of Tyrone Thomas by the Spokane Police. Anderson spoke these personal words at the June 21, 2010 Spokane City Council meeting at which 65 people remained until nearly midnight to testify against the long history of human rights abuses and deaths committed by the corrupt and out-of-control Spokane Police Department.
Just before Anderson and nearly two dozen citizens testified against these abuses, and after sitting through hours of other council business, Chief of Police Anne Kirkpatrick and Mayor Mary Vernor abandoned the Council chambers and went home. Faced with this unprecedented and persistent public movement against her abusive police force, the Chief returned June 28, 2010, to verbally murder Tyrone Thomas again and to carry out a character assassination of Anderson. (Note: Councilman Jon Snyder supported the Chief’s actions in his blog post on 6/30/10 and in other statements).
Nevertheless, Chief Kirkpatrick failed in her dishonest attempt to influence the Council, when it voted 7-0 in favor a new and strengthen ordinance on police oversight and civilian control of the Spokane Police Department.
Here are Anderson’s powerful words in remembrance of Tyrone and in favor of strengthened police oversight:
Hello, my name is Terri Anderson and this is the second time I am standing here to ask you to pass an ordinance that will give independent investigative authority to the Office of Police Ombudsman. I have had the opportunity to speak to each of you tell you that we need real and meaningful oversight of police misconduct. But I have never told you why.
In August 2001 I was working at Spokane Community College in Multicultural Student Services. I was looking forward to a new school year and preparing my work study students for their new job responsibilities. One of those students was Tyrone Thomas. I knew Tyrone because he had served as president of the Black Student Union and later served on the Associated Student Council at SCC. He was a successful and committed student nearing the end of his studies in the Invasive Cardiac Technology program, a challenging program where he achieved outstanding grades and was looking forward to a promising future with a career in the health care industry.
That all ended on August 6, 2001 when he was shot and killed by two Spokane police officers in downtown Spokane. The days that followed were heart breaking. Students who had taken the summer off from school were pouring in my office because they had to talk to someone about the loss of their friend and fellow classmate. What troubled us the most was the way the police portrayed him and the description of the events that led to his death. It didn’t make sense to those of us who knew him. A staff member recalled seeing him in class almost immediately before the fatal shooting. Something didn’t seem right.
We were also troubled by the fact that he was shot in the back while fleeing the police and turned down a hallway where he collapsed. Even though a witness saw him through a glass door and told the officers that he was down and bleeding, severely injured but still alive, those officers would not allow emergency medical help into the building for nearly an hour. When help was finally allowed in, Tyrone had bled to death. The bullets did not hit any vital organs. He just bled to death.
After the students and I attended a memorial service for Tyrone at the Jesus is the Answer Church where he attended, the students asked me to help them in getting some answers to questions we had about Tyrone’s death. We went to the NAACP and asked for help. The president at the time arranged a meeting between the Chief of Police Roger Bragdon and us. He gave us an implausible explanation about the bullet entry in Tyrone’s back and an equally implausible and heartless explanation why they let him bleed to death with an ambulance sitting on the sidewalk just outside the building where he had been shot. There was no ombudsman at that time, there was no one we could go to that could conduct an independent investigation.
Of course those officers were cleared of any wrong doing through an internal investigation and several months later they received a commendation of valor. For what? For shooting a man in the back and allowing him to bleed to death alone in a hallway after an eye witness told them he was down and injured with emergency medical help minutes, maybe even seconds away?
That is why we need independent investigations for complaints of police misconduct and critical incidents. I care about Tyrone Thomas. Students, faculty and staff at SCC cared about Tyrone. We all care about Tyrone, about Eagle Michael, Otto Zehm, Josh Levy, Jerome Alford and the many others who have been killed and injured by the Spokane police. You should care about them, too.
This ordinance is just a first step. But it must be an honest ordinance that mandates action, and not one that just uses the right words. I will always wonder if we had true, meaningful, independent oversight of police conduct when Tyrone was shot, maybe, just maybe the officers would have thought about it, and they would have allowed the emergency medical help in the building and Tyrone would be alive today.
Thank you very much.