Thursday, October 1, 2015

Police ombudsman commission opts to offer Florida candidate interim position, do more thorough background check

Posted By on Thu, Oct 1, 2015 at 9:58 AM

click to enlarge Candidate Robert Breeden speaks during a public interview with the OPO Commission - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak Photo
Candidate Robert Breeden speaks during a public interview with the OPO Commission

The Office of Police Ombudsman commissioners are frustrated.

Last night, the five-member volunteer group opted to offer Robert Breeden the police ombudsman position on an interim basis. In the meantime, they plan to ask City Council for funds to send an investigator to Florida to dig deeper into the allegations of his abusive and domineering management style and the whistleblower lawsuit he filed against his former boss. (You can see the lawsuit and the 100-plus-page investigation into his management style at the bottom of this post). 

If Breeden were to accept the offer, he would be hired for four months with the option of renewing the contract as the permanent ombudsman, a three-year-term. The Commission has not ruled out candidate Raheel Humayun and plans to send an investigator to Victoria, British Columbia if given the funds. All five commissioners agree the third candidate, Allen Huggins, is not a viable option. 

Commissioners pointed out two problems with this decision during their discussion last night: 1. there is no guarantee Breeden will accept the offer. He lives in Florida, and as Commission chair Deb Conklin pointed out, "it would be asking a lot of him." 2. the Commission has no budget to hire an investigator, and will be reliant on City Council for the funds to do so. 

Community members in the audience were satisfied with the decision, considering the fact that the Commission discussed scrapping all three candidates and asking the selection committee to start over. 

"I think it's about time," Phillip Tyler, a member of the NAACP and former lieutenant in charge of operations at the Spokane County Jail, said after the decision. "I'm happy that they made a decision, temporary as it may be, to move forward."

"They're in a real tender spot," Tim Connor, a former Center for Justice spokesman and law enforcement watchdog, said of the Commission. "I was concerned they weren't going to do anything and instead sent it back to the selection committee, which isn't going to work." 

Throughout the meeting, which lasted more than two hours, commissioners voiced their frustrations. 

Conklin blamed the selection committee for not properly vetting each of the candidates. When Tim Burns was hired, the city sent investigators to his home in California before offering him the job. Mayor David Condon also flew to Indianapolis before hiring now-former Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub. 

Nancy Isserlis, the city attorney and chair of the ombudsman selection committee, did not return several phone calls asking for comment on the selection process. But city spokesman Brian Coddington told the Inlander earlier this month "the expectation was that the ombudsman commission would do its own due diligence." 

Conklin is also frustrated with the fact that the selection committee met in secret. 

Commissioner Scott Richter asked if the commission has been forced to choose Breeden given the circumstances of the other two candidates. Huggins' criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement lost him credibility within the community, and it could be months before Humayun is allowed to work in the United States. 

Commissioner A.J. VanderPol expressed his frustration with the backlog of complaints since Burns' departure, which is why he was in favor of hiring Breeden for the permanent position. 

Jenny Rose, the newest member of the Commission, said she wouldn't have felt comfortable voting in favor of a permanent hire, if that's what the Commission had decided to do. She was appointed after the three candidates' public interviews, and hasn't met any of them, she said. 

"I would have rather seen them hire permanently," Tyler said. "But the fact that they opted to put someone in place at least bodes well for the citizens of Spokane. Otherwise, it would just be a nauseating experience — the definition of insanity."   

Read Breeden's whistleblower lawsuit and the investigation into his management style below: 

BREEDEN Lawsuit Complaint

BREEDEN Investigation

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About The Author

Mitch Ryals

Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.