Thursday, September 10, 2015

Who’s on the sheriff’s Citizens Advisory Board anyway?

Posted By on Thu, Sep 10, 2015 at 3:06 PM

Last Wednesday, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich called a press conference to address a petition that called for an “independently-appointed law enforcement oversight commission.”

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A year ago, before his re-election, he was supportive of the idea, even looking to hire Tim Burns, the outgoing city of Spokane police ombudsman. “We've used the ombudsman over the past four years about four times for some high profile cases. It's time to formalize that arrangement, because they've done it for free for us,” he said in a KXLY story. “What I'm looking for [is] that third eye, if you will, to come in, review, make sure that everything was done correctly.”

But now, with
months of problems with the citizen commission overseeing the ombudsman, and no current ombudsman, Knezovich says the ground has shifted. He dismissed the petition as political, and argued the sheriff’s Citizens Advisory Board, which has been weighing in on issues for 14 years, is the ideal independent oversight tool for the office. 

I took that question up in a story this week. But to do that, I needed to first figure out a simple question: Who’s on the Citizens Advisory Board, anyway?
“Citizens. Everyday walkabout citizens,” Knezovich said. “If you do a public records request, we’ll give you those names.”

An Inlander records request yielded 19 names, and we attempted to contact all of them. I’ve spoken with all of them but Vijaya Pavani, Mehrdad Samadi, Larry Marlett, Carol Lee Crockett and Geoffrey Palachuk. With some, I just got who they are and why they joined, but with others, I had multiple extensive conversations. And one of the first members ever appointed, John F. Bergman, Jr., tells me he’s announcing his resignation because what he sees as the recent politicization of the board. 

The debate about the board centers on how they were appointed, the degree to which they were “cherry picked,” the board’s ideological diversity and how much tough scrutiny they’ve used to examine the sheriff’s department. Read and decide for yourself.


APPOINTED BY FORMER SHERIFF MARK STERK

Chuck Parker, Chairman

66-year-old fifth-grade teacher at Linwood Elementary

When he joined: About 9 years ago

Why he joined: “I have an interest in law enforcement, and it’s fun to give back to the community and get involved and find out what’s going on,” Parker says. When he was about 25, he says, he even tried to apply for the sheriff’s department for Pierce County, but his car caught fire on the way to take the test. He’s always been involved in the community, he says, and when former Undersheriff Dave Wiyrich approached him with joining, he took him up on the offer.

How the board works: “If [the sheriff] has specific things he wants us to review, he brings it to us. We meet, we in turn review everything, then we formulate questions, and we take the questions back to him at another meeting. [If we ask], he will bring in any of the parties involved in the investigation. We have free rein to interview them. [If we have questions], he will get us the information. A few years ago when gangs were more prevalent here, we brought in his team, they presented to us what they do and how they do it.

"Normally we come together, and after we put it all together … we formulate a letter of response to Ozzie, gathering all the facts, and put the information all together.” He says the letters aren’t extensive – typically either supportive or critical of the department’s decisions. But the review is thorough and the questions the board asks can be tough. For one case, he remembers, it’s meant leafing through 700 pages of documents.

On whether the board has ever issued a statement or decision critical of the sheriff’s office: “I can’t think of one specifically being critical… There was one a while ago on the discipline. It wasn’t negative toward Ozzie, [but] we felt there should have been more discipline. It turned out the officer was given discipline, then there was litigation.”

On whether the public brings complaints to the advisory board: "Our meetings are open, and nobody has ever come to us with complaints.”

On how the monthly meetings are advertised to the public: “
We don’t put them in the paper… I’m not sure, they might be on the website or the calendar.”

On whether the county should have an ombudsman, like the city: “We’re fair. We hold him accountable. It’s transparent. He never tries to sway us one way or another. We ask him some pretty tough questions, but we felt like, 'Why are we going to spend $100,000, when we’re getting a good group of individuals and we do it for free?'"

Leigh O’Neill, secretary
Pricing analyst at Itron

When she joined: 14 years ago

Why she joined: “They had a news story. [Then-Sheriff Mark Sterk] wanted the citizens involved in the sheriff’s department,” O’Neill says. “He wanted to know what our thoughts. He wanted us to go out in the community and tell our friends and family what they do.”

Law enforcement has been a part of her family ever since her mom volunteered for the Juvenile Accountability Board with the local police department growing up in Priest River, Idaho.

“I grew up not respecting the police as I probably should have,” she says “I wanted my kids to respect them and understand the police.”

On what’s been the most contentious issue on the board: “The thing we have the hardest time as citizens are discipline actions. When Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich tries to do things, and then the arbitrator undoes them… I’m a harsh person. I think penalties should be given. I don’t believe in too many second chances.” But here, she says, the board is aligned with Knezovich in believing deputies should be held to higher standards.

On how the public is informed about meetings: “We don’t do anything publicly,” O’Neill says. She says they’ve invited plenty of people, on an individual level. But while board members get emails or letters reminding them of when the meetings are happening, there’s no public announcement, to her knowledge. She says she keeps minutes and they have agendas. But there’s no website, and people have to go make a public records request to obtain them.
 
On local media: “We have invited every news agency in Spokane to come sit in on any meeting at any time. Nobody comes. We have offered, time and time again… Come sit with us. Listen to us. We have been open."

John F. Bergman, Jr.
Retired Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army

When he joined: 14 years ago, among the first people Mark Sterk hired.

Why he joined: “Mark Sterk had an article in the paper looking for people to confer with him, local citizens in the area. I was retired. I wasn’t busy doing anything.”

Why he’s decided to resign at the next meeting: “What has happened to the board is people have turned it political. … You, and the press, all the guys mentioned in the paper, have turned the citizens advisory committee political.”


On the most contentious issue the board has debated: Oh, ho, ho, there was a lot of debate [on the Wayne Scott Creach shooting]. We had a notebook three inches thick from the sheriff’s department. We had all the reports, very open. Everything was in front of us. We discussed, we had questions, we had detectives and patrolmen in to answer our concerns.”

On whether the board members disagreed with each other on the Creach case: 
“I can’t recall any great disagreement. They had questions, they were answered to their satisfaction. And we could see nothing that the trooper had done wrong. Creach was the problem with that. He was aggressive, as he’s always been. He had a history, you know, of pulling a gun on people. [And then] he did it with someone who had a gun. The sheriff’s deputy did nothing wrong, except was maybe a little more physical with Creach than he needed to be.”


On the deputies: “We love some of these deputies, they’re are out of this world. Being former Army, I’d love to have them as my NCO… I’m very impressed with some of the young men he has in the sheriff’s department.”

On his fellow board members: “They’re nice people. They’re good citizens. They care. They like the sheriff.”

On Knezovich: “We’re very, very impressed with the quality that the sheriff has,” Bergman says. “He’s been very very open with us. Talked to us about any subject we want.”

He calls Knezovich a “tough taskmaster,” and says, “The city doesn’t have what Ozzie brings.”

On the county commissioners: “I’m not happy with the board of commissioners, because the sheriff has no budget. He has no budget until they tell him what his budget is…. I don’t think that the commissioners do their job right. I hope we are able to get more than three on the commissioners. I think we should have nine.”


Gurjeet Singh Aujla
Sikh priest

When he joined: He doesn’t remember specifics, but says it was a long time ago.

Why he joined: After the robbery of a Sihk temple in Spokane in 2003, Singh Aujla was encouraged to join during then-Sheriff Mark Sterk’s tenure.

Kenneth L. Winn
80-year old retired truck salesman for Freightliner Trucks

When he joined: About 11 years ago.

Why he joined: He met Dick Collins, with the Sheriff’s office, while working out at the YMCA, and Collins encouraged him to join. “Apparently, he thought I would be an asset,” Winn says. “It’s just giving back to the community. It sure as hell wasn’t for the money.” The position is unpaid.

On whether the board has had any conflicts:
I don’t think we’ve ever had any arguments. We’ve had discussions.”

On how the public is notified of meetings: “I don’t think the organization even has a website. They don’t put out notices.”

On ongoing training for the board: “We’re continually having demonstrations from the law enforcement officers about everything from handling weapons to hand-to-hand combat.”

On the idea of hiring an ombudsman: I think it’s a waste of money, to be honest. I don’t know if you’d have any idea what it costs, but you know it isn’t just hiring one person, it’s hiring a department.

Mary Lewis

Homemaker


When she joined: About 14 years ago, though she says she hasn’t been to a meeting in a year because she’s been ill.

Why she joined: At the time, 
she was a volunteer for SCOPE (Sheriff Community Oriented Policing Effort). The undersheriff, then Dave Wyrick, asked her if she would be interested in joining the advisory board.

On whether there’s been any contention on the board: “Nothing gets heated.”


On what she’s learned on her time on the board:
“I feel privileged being on the board. It’s very enlightening for the hard work that these police officers do and what they’re faced with every day.”

On the media and the county commissioners: “You know, I find this curious. Over the years, from Sterk through Knezovich we have asked county commissioners and media to come to our meetings and see what that’s about,” she says. But only two have taken her up on the offer.

 

APPOINTED BY SHERIFF OZZIE KNEZOVICH

John P. Nollette

70-year-old criminal defense attorney, former district court judge

When he joined: About five years ago, though he’s missed a few meetings recently.

Why he joined: “I asked to be considered to be on the board. I asked the sheriff and I submitted an application. I have a lot of respect — and had a lot of respect — for the sheriff. I wanted to participate in a non-political way to assist him. He’s a very honest man. … I have a lot of respect for people in working public positions who are honest.”

While Sterk had put his hires through an official process, Nolette says he didn’t have a formal interview with Knezovich. “The sheriff knew who I was and I knew who the sheriff was,” he says.

On the most contentious issue the board has debated: “There really hasn’t been any contention. There have been issues where we’ve asked for additional inquiry.”

On the freedom the board is given to investigate: “I don’t know of anything we couldn’t bring to the attention of the sheriff, that we would not be permitted to review. Usually they give us enough stuff to review.”

On whether the board has initiated their own investigations: “No, no, not that I can recall… I suppose if anything came up with the sheriff's office, we could ask it could be reviewed by the body, but I can’t think of a time. ... Everybody’s volunteering on this, so nobody’s trying to ask for any extra work.”

 

Mike Davisson

57-year-old retired corporate engineering manager, formerly with Agilent Technologies

When he joined: 6 or 7 years ago

Why he joined: He ran into Todd Mielke and Ozzie Knezovich in the Denver airport. “I walked up and started talking to them,” Davisson says. “I wanted to talk about what their feelings were about community-oriented policing. We went back and forth a bit. It was interesting conversation. I wouldn’t call it adversarial, but almost close.”

When Davisson ran into Knezovich again, the sheriff suggested he join the board. And Davisson, concerned about the distrust and disconnect with law enforcement with the community, thought he could do some good.

“I can do some community some good," he says. "I’m not in there to slam [law enforcement], but I’m not in there to pat them on the back.”

On reviewing high-profile cases: “The review of cases started just a couple years ago…. The sheriff brought that up to us as just another set of eyes. … We agreed to do it, and we were dumbfounded at first, where here comes this 600-plus binder and DVDs. We waded through this immense amount of investigative data. … We read through ourselves at home. We write down questions and highlight stuff. Then we come back and put all the questions together, then they look up who the subject matter experts are for each area. We can ask whatever we want, we get the answer from the subject matter expert. …

"I think the review of the cases has put some people into more work than they expected — having to read a 600-700 page document and understand it is fairly daunting.”

On the role of the board: “Mostly it’s policies and procedures and what we felt from a public perspective. It’s a laymen's look at it. I don’t want people to get the feeling that we’re looking at it from a strictly legal standpoint, because we’re not experts.”

On the differences between an ombudsman and the Citizen’s Advisory Board: “We don’t have an investigative side to us. We’re not set up to say, 'This is a meeting where people can come in and complain…'  Theirs is more of proactive, looking for [issues] and looking to have a public input. Our has been set up to be more reactive. Our structure has never been set to be a public board for the public. It’s a review board for the sheriff to review his actions or policies.”

On Knezovich: “Ozzie and I don’t get along on everything, but I respect his honesty. I don’t feel he’s ever lied to me, and I don’t feel he tries to hide things. … He and I don’t agree on the use of unmarked cars.”

On the Holyk incident:  "I will be asking some very detailed engineering questions, and they should be prepared for that. I’m going to be doing a deep dive through the physics. Because that’s my specialty. I’m the engineer. …

"Regardless of [whether] he hit or didn’t hit a kid, I’m upset that an officer is doing 70 miles an hour down a city street without lights and sirens. For a public safety perspective, that’s just nuts.”

Marlyn “Skip” Johnson
A 76-year-old retired truck driver, former military police officer in the Air Force


When he joined:
“About five years ago.”

Why he joined: He says he’s always been interested in police work and has several friends in law enforcement. While working as truck driver, he says, you tend to meet and befriend a lot of state patrol officers, and made a lot of friends that way. Not only that, but he was a military police officer in the Air Force.

Another one of Johnson’s friends was serving on the Citizen’s Advisory Board, and when that friend left, he asked Johnson if  he was interested in applying. Then, undersheriff Jeff Tower called him and interviewed him. 

On whether there have been any intense disagreements on the board: “No, not that can I think of. There are disagreements, but it seems like through discussions and that stuff it seems like we’re able to come together on them… When we are critical, we seem to get it straightened out in our meetings without [needing to send] a letter.”

He says there have been a few folks who raised issues about the use of unmarked vehicles, but mostly there’s a lot of agreement.

On the board’s role: “We’re not there to be for Ozzie or the police department. But to be critical and bring up things and issues”


S. Thompson MacKenzie

61-year-old financial advisor for Merrill Lynch, former police officer

When he joined: About three years ago

Why he joined: “I had been speaking with the Sheriff Knezovich about a complaint [over a drug house in his neighborhood] and he was basically asking if, based on my police experience — I was a [Bedford, New Hampshire] policeman for six years in a prior life — would I be interested in taking a more active role in the community." 

On whether the board has brought in experts independent of the sheriff’s office: “I don’t believe we’ve had any experts independent of the sheriff’s office come in. It’s from his perspective of expertise.”

On if there’s a mechanism for citizen complaints: “Anyone in the board — if there’s an issue that has been brought with them from something else they can bring it up with the board. But we don’t go out and solicit input directly with like a survey.” While the meetings are open, there aren’t citizens at every meeting.

“We’ve had a couple visitors,” he says, “but there’s not someone there every month, that’s for sure.”

On the sort of things the board discusses: During MacKenzie’s three-year tenure, he says the board has tackled two big topics — and the death of Will Berger. They’ll tackle the Ryan Holyk case soon.

He says that, during his tenure, the board has not initiated any of their own investigations, but have discussed, in general, topics like use of force, predictive policing and body cameras.

“At the beginning of every meeting it’s always, ‘Is there anything you want to add to the agenda?'” he says. “We have a lot of freedom to move in a direction we want to pursue.”

Renae DeCaro

38-year-old project manager of Network Services for Inland Northwest Health Services

When she joined: A little over a year ago.

Why she joined: She says she had her shop broken into, and complained about property crime to Knezovich when she attended a meeting at Morgan Acres. She asked Knezovich what she could do to improve things, and he suggested joining the board.

On her frustrations with law enforcement when she joined: “It seems like the systems weren’t all connected to get the information to the right people to make things happen. ...  The tools, the mechanisms, the jail — we are so far behind for technology. The systems like Crime Check and 911 didn’t even communicate.”

On whether the county needs an ombudsman: If these people want to go to an ombudsman great, [but] you have 20 people doing it for free.”

Robert M. West

62-year-old probation office clerk. Former sheriff’s dispatcher, 911 operator, senior reserve police officer, deputy coroner, and army sergeant

When he joined: A little over a year ago.

Why he joined: “I live out in Spokane Valley, and I have just always believed that if I’m going to bitch about the system, I want to be a part of the solution. I had asked Ozzie if there was any openings on the board, there was,” West says. “I know most of the law enforcement because of all my circles, my involvement with Smart Justice.”

On how citizen complaints are handled: “We don’t receive specific complaints from the citizens,” West says. “Our board is open to the public, somebody could come in if they wanted to. The current process as we sit right now, they would call the sheriff’s department, they would turn the complaint over to sheriff’s internal affairs office. They would investigate.” Then, if internal affairs wants to turn over the investigation to the board, they can, though Knezovich told the Inlander that hasn't happened. 

Right now, the Citizens Advisory Board is drafting new bylaws to clarify its role, he says.

On the board’s reputation: "We’re not there just as a sounding board for the sheriff… People don’t know much about the Citizens Advisory Board because they’ve done such a good job. With the research, if you get down to nickels and dimes, it’s going to cost a substantial amount of money if they try to bring in an ombudsman like the city. The bottom line is, it’s a good deal. We’re doing good stuff, [though] there’s always room for improvement… Let the merits of our board stand on their own. They’ve been around 14 years, they have reviewed various cases, and you’ve come up with the same conclusions independently as other bodies have found."


An e-mail, sent today, on former undersheriff Dave Wiyrick’s comments in the Inlander.

I have personally worked with Dave in the past both professionally and various political campaigns.  I have no political agenda or ax to grind with Dave.  These comments are strictly based on his observations of the work of the CAB and makeup of its membership.

His comment about "garbage in and garbage out," is not very flattering especially if he was the one responsible for recruiting the very people he speaks of.  I am not aware of who was recruited by him, but my relationships with the current membership has been very productive and I believe the citizens of Spokane are totally getting their money's worth!

He states if we are told one side of the story that is all we have to go on.  In the cases I have been involved with we have had "all" sides of the stories, to include some information that the initial investigators might not have considered at the time of their investigation.  Our board has asked very intelligent and educated questions on each of these cases.  In each case we have come to the same conclusion as those making final determinations.  In each case I have been involved with we have even brought up some issues regarding policy or procedures that might be helpful in future dealings with the public.

He states we don't have the background to do something like this, and aren't even qualified to do burglaries, let alone shootings.  I can tell you emphatically this is not true at all.  Personally I have been thru a police academy, written their certifications for their reserve program, been a senior reserve police officer, a Kittitas County Alcohol Board member, police records specialist, animal control office, Deputy Coroner for the County of Spokane, Guardian Ad-Litem for the CASA program in Spokane, a Municipal Probation staff member for over 13 years, been thru the Citizens Sheriff Academy, a member of the Smart Justice Executive Board, and sit on the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Sub-committees for Processing and Technology.  There is a lot more but I think you kind of get the idea.  Many of my Co-Board members have very diverse skill sets as well as being very capable of asking appropriate questions and making educated conclusions.

In closing...Dave...get your facts straight before making such disparaging comments about the very citizens that are saving the tax-payers hundreds of thousands of dollars and doing it without a single complaint.

Brandi Peetz

29-year-old Spokane County 911 operator; Robert West’s daughter

When she joined: About four months ago.

Why she joined: “Long story short, I attended a
citizen’s academy,” Peetz says. At the academy, she heard about the advisory board.

On what she thinks about law enforcement: I’ve had the privilege of being able to see both sides. Being a citizen, and also talking to some police officers and doing some volunteer work. I’ve seen things both ways. With everything in our society there’s bad and good. People in their ignorance and lack of motivation to figure things out on their own tend to agree with the majority without doing their own research…  Everybody makes mistakes and we ultimately learn from their mistakes.”

On why she decided not to be a police officer: I did ultimately want to be a police officer. But with everything that’s going on right now I don’t feel that’s the calling for me. I feel my skills could be used in another way. When I see the really nasty and negative things people have to say about their police officers, it’s really disheartening … for me it’s sad and I feel there shouldn’t be people out there saying things. It’s really hard to gauge. I see the nasty things and it’s really disheartening.”

Tiffanie Papich

Former director of Client Delivery for Volt Workforce solutions, sister-in-law of Kim Papich, public information officer for the Spokane Regional Health District

When she joined: A few weeks ago.

Why she joined: “I’ve always had a big passion for law. With all the issues around the feelings toward the law, it just made me want to be more involved.” She says that when she heard about the advisory board, she recently contacted the undersheriff in order to apply.



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