In the week since two of his deputies were wounded on the job, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has begun to examine what went wrong, and how.
In a way, last Tuesday’s shoot-out and car chase dates back to last fall.
That’s when the gun used by Charles Robert Wallace — the man who shot two deputies before fleeing and taking his own life — was reported stolen in Liberty Lake, Knezovich says.
“What we hear from the courts is that these are just property crimes,” Knezovich says. “But here’s what the results are: Last fall, a vehicle was broken into and a gun was stolen and that gun was used to shoot two deputies. That’s not just a property crime.”
Knezovich says one thing became especially clear last week: the disconnect in the way cops and courts see suspected criminals.
Wallace’s criminal record includes charges ranging from car prowling, forgery and theft to assault, cocaine and heroin charges and driving under the influence. He went to jail in 1998 after he led a Washington State Patrol trooper on a high-speed chase in Spokane Valley, and he was arrested after escaping from Geiger Corrections Center in 2002. But none of his sentences kept him behind bars for more than a few years. Most recently, he was arrested in April on a federal heroin charge. He was released from county jail pending trial to attend a voluntary drug treatment program in Spokane Valley, but he simply left the program, authorities say.
That’s why Deputies Matt Spink and Michael Northway pulled over a car Wallace was riding in last Tuesday, which began the shoot-out and chase north to Deer Park.
In the days since, Knezovich has questioned why Wallace was released in the first place. From property crimes to assault convictions, the sheriff says, judges have been too quick to release “people who’ve shown they won’t be stopped with a slap on the hand.”
Next month, Knezovich plans to meet with Superior Court judges to discuss his concerns. He says he’s requested meetings like this before and they’ve been canceled. The sheriff says he doesn’t have specific policy changes in mind, but he wants to urge judges to take a harder look at the offenders they release.
“We really need to assess our criminal justice system when these types of people can be arrested and re-arrested and back out on the street posing these types of risks,” he says. “These are very bad people.
“Sadly, it’s taken this type of situation before we’re actually getting together to talk about it.”