Wednesday, September 2, 2015

[Updated] Lichty says Office of Police Ombudsman is "the mayor's mess"

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 5:05 PM

Mayoral candidate Shar Lichty blasted Mayor David Condon’s handling of the Office of Police Ombudsman, saying that he broke his promise of bringing greater accountability and transparency to the Spokane Police Department.

In a blistering press release issued earlier today, Lichty, an organizer with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, faulted the mayor failing to negotiate with the Police Guild in 2013 to give the Office of Police Ombudsman better independent investigative authority. She also faulted Condon, who ran in 2011 on a platform of bringing greater oversight to the police department, for failing to fill the ombudsman position, which has sat vacant since January.

“It’s the mayor’s mess because he ran on that platform and it’s arguably what he won his election on,” says Lichty.

Lichty points out that in May, City Council passed a resolution calling on the police ombudsman selection committee to come up with a list of three possible interim candidates for the ombudsman position until a permanent replacement could be found. She also faulted the ombudsman selection committee, noting that it was chaired by city attorney and Condon appointee Nancy Isserlis, for failing to look into the backgrounds of the three candidates for ombudsman. She specifically took issue with Allen Huggins, who made controversial comments on the website of the Wall Street Journal, being made a finalist.

“They didn’t vet the applicants if Huggins was a finalist,” she says.

Lichty also questions why Andrea Brenneke, a Seattle attorney with a background in restorative justice, didn’t even get an interview after applying for the position.

Councilman Jon Snyder, a Condon foe who chairs the council’s public safety committee, also faulted the mayor for why the city hasn’t had a permanent ombudsman since January. He says the reason he was given by Isserlis for no interim ombudsman candidates being offered was because no one was qualified.

“That’s just patently false,” says Snyder. He says that he wouldn’t support Huggins for a permanent position, but pointed out that he lives nearby in Idaho and could have served as an interim.

The mayor did not respond for comment. 

City spokesperson Brian Coddington, who stressed he was not speaking in a political capacity, says that the mayor’s office has had conversations about having a process for selecting an interim ombudsman in case the position should fall vacant.

As for why Brenneke wasn’t considered, he said that committee examined the ombudsman applicants and she didn’t have support on the selection committee. He also noted that the mayor wanted the selection process to unfold independently of him.

“The mayor has been very intentional about staying out of that process and not even meeting the candidates,” says Coddington. 

Condon says that his administration has put more oversight and citizen confidence back into the Police Department, noting it’s implemented the recommendations of the Use of Force Commission report, collaborated with the U.S. Department of Justice on reform of the department and has begun training equipping officers with Crisis Intervention Training and body cameras.

“We see the confidence in our Police Department growing substantially,” says Condon.

He also says that the family of Otto Zehm, a man who was killed by Spokane police, has endorsed his campaign.

As for the delay in finding an ombudsman, he says that the commission wanted to first reexamine the job description and the whistleblower complaint in June further derailed the process, which he has been independent of. 

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