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The Inlander Responds To Complaints 

Reviewing our coverage of police after local agencies lodge complaints of inaccurate and biased reporting

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The Spokane Police Lieutenants and Captains Association last week issued a letter to officers and the media extolling the good work of police while complaining about a “slanted perspective” in the local media.

“The time has come to tell the citizens of Spokane in plain language that their police department is a good one,” the letter reads.

The letter cites two recent articles: a June 27 story in the Spokesman-Review and our July 1 cover story, “Strong Arm of the Law,” which examined the process by which local law enforcement agencies handle excessive force complaints. (Most internal investigations end, we found, without finding any officers at fault.)

The article also raised questions about why, in the case of the Spokane Police Department, the city keeps internal reports relating to those complaints secret unless the accused officer is found in the wrong — a policy out of step with procedures at agencies across the state, including the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

Eight days before the association sent out its letter, the Spokane police chief, a city attorney, a city spokeswoman and the county sheriff came to Inlander HQ to criticize the article, saying it contained numerous mistakes. The Inlander is committed to publishing accurate information and correcting the record when appropriate, and we asked the officials to provide a list of their issues with our reporting.

Last Friday, 22 days after our article was published, the city and county e-mailed us their separate lists of complaints.

The city’s list runs four pages long and the county’s is two. On the whole, their complaints are generally not about facts or errors, but about word choice and background details we chose not to include in our 5,000-word report. None of their objections countered the central points of our report: that a culture of secrecy continues to pervade the Spokane Police Department; and that the Sheriff’s Office does not maintain a database of complaints against its deputies and relies on the chain of command to track problematic employees.

As an example of their list, we had written that Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich considered his agency’s computer system “highly flawed.” In his list of complaints, the sheriff writes, “I acknowledged that our system is antiquated, that is different from being ‘highly flawed.’”

You can read both the county’s and city’s lists of issues in their entirety by downloading the files from the sidebar above.

Some of their issues with our article, however, did involve factual errors. Along with our own internal review, we uncovered four mistakes that need to be corrected; they are listed below and have already been made to the online version of the story.

The “Strong Arm of the Law” article was published as part of an ongoing series, The Injustice Project, which is committed to exposing miscarriages of justice. Send tips and story ideas to injustice [at] inlander.com or call the news tip line at (509) 325-0634 ext. 264.

Also, since our article was published, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has said she’ll review the Police Department’s records policies, and we will report on her review in a future issue.

CORRECTIONS

  • In a timeline of high-profile police incidents accompanying the story, we wrote about the shooting of Sidney McDermott in 1994. The item indicated that McDermott had been shot and killed by Officer Tracie Meidl. Meidl had shot at McDermott repeatedly, but missed him. It was Officer Marc Wheelwright, not Miedl, who fatally wounded McDermott.

  • The timeline also reported on the 2007 shooting by Jay Olsen, the off-duty officer who shot Shonto Pete in the head. The item indicated that the city launched an internal investigation “soon after in response to widespread public outrage about [Olsen’s] acquittal.” The public outcry didn’t prompt the investigation; it’s the city’s policy to investigate excessive force complaints.

  • The timeline also indicated Chad Ruff was a city officer, when in fact he is employed by the Sheriff’s Office. A second mention of Ruff, however, did correctly indicate he was a deputy, rather than a city police officer.

  • The article also indicated the Sheriff’s Office took over law enforcement duties in Medical Lake a couple of years ago when, in fact, the Sheriff’s Office began policing that city in December 2009.

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