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Spokane City Council expands sit-lie restrictions; plus, a lawsuit against the Spokane County Sheriff's Office

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Can't Sit There

In a final 4-3 split vote (the power balance is shifting next month), the Spokane City Council voted Monday to extend the hours during which the city's downtown sit-lie ban is in effect. The extension, from between 7 am and 9 pm to between 6 am and midnight, brought more than an hour of public testimony, alternating between business interests who said the change will help curb crime in downtown, and activists who said it would criminalize homelessness and add to the city's law enforcement costs.

Councilmembers Mike Allen, Steve Salvatori, Nancy McLaughlin and Mike Fagan voted for the ordinance, praising a provision that only allows the ban to take effect when there is room open in local homeless shelters. Nay voters Ben Stuckart, Amber Waldref and Jon Snyder said the change was poorly timed as local efforts to find alternatives to jail are underway. Stuckart cited court cases and research criticizing other cities' sit-lie laws and warned that if officers mistakenly arrest someone when shelters are full, the city could be open to a lawsuit.

With the other controversial matter of the night, the council deferred a vote on a proposed police contract agreement and ordinance relating to the police ombudsman to Feb. 3. — HEIDI GROOVER

Closing the Deal

As legislatures across the country have been offering billions of dollars in incentive packages to woo production of Boeing's 777X airplane to their states, Spokane County commissioners last week passed their own measure to clear the way for a much smaller aerospace company.

A few weeks ago, in an Inlander's story on the local aerospace industry ("Turbulence Ahead," Dec. 5), County Commissioner Al French revealed that Spokane was a finalist for a future site for Aviation Technical Services, a maintenance and repair company for airplanes.

While Aviation Technical Services has been reticent to even confirm Spokane is a contender, the commissioners have voted to sell $19 million in tax-exempt bonds to allow Spokane International Airport to build a hanger for ATS on airport property. As of press time, the bonds were still pending a required public hearing.

ATS has been offered a few special incentives — Avista Utilities and the City of Spokane have offered to hook up sewer and power to their facility at reduced cost to ATS, French says — but this is more of a mandatory step. Before ATS can choose Spokane, they need a hanger to land in.

"Regardless of whether they went here or went to Everett or southern Alabama, the same deal structure applies," French says. He says it won't cost the taxpayers or the county anything — the debt on the bond installments would be paid through ATS's lease payments. If ATS ever leaves, Spokane International Airport would own the hanger.

Spokane County used a similar bond to create a hanger for Associated Painters, the aircraft painting company that located to Spokane in 2010.

"ATS is waiting for us to take their action on this, and they have one more internal approval, and then it's a done deal," French says. — DANIEL WALTERS

Suspects Sue

Four former suspects in a Spokane County Sheriff's Office investigation into sex trafficking in 2012 have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county, alleging they were wrongfully arrested and publicly defamed over unsubstantiated accusations.

The claim, filed last week, alleges sheriff's investigators gave undue weight to accusations from a 21-year-old woman, who said the four people had drugged her and forced her into prostitution. In May 2012, authorities raided their Spokane Valley home, jailing them for nearly a week.

Plaintiff attorney Richard Wall says any reasonable detective would have been more skeptical of the woman's statements. "Nothing was corroborated," he says.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says investigators were pursuing what they believed to be a very serious crime. They later released the suspects and have since closed the case.

The lawsuit does not list an amount for compensation, but seeks damages for violations of civil rights and due process, false arrest, defamation, negligence and emotional distress.

— JACOB JONES

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