Monday, July 25, 2016

Spokane police balk at ombudsman's request for office-wide access to body-camera footage

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2016 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge Spokane police balk at ombudsman's request for office-wide access to body-camera footage
Interim police ombudsman Bart Logue

In April, Spokane's interim ombudsman Bart Logue requested that his entire office be given access to police body camera footage. 

Given the backlog of cases, in addition to those currently under investigation, it would speed things up if Luvimae Omana, the ombudsman's assistant, could assist Logue in reviewing the pertinent footage. 

Spokane police said no way.

In a letter to Asst. Chief Craig Meidl, president of the Spokane Police Guild, Sgt. John Griffin argued that expanding access constituted a change in officer working conditions, which must be bargained.

Lt. Steve Braun, who works in Internal Affairs, also responded after consulting with Griffin and the department's lawyer: "It is my opinion that we have satisfied the ordinance by granting you access to," he wrote in an email to Logue. "I view the access to body camera videos in to be highly sensitive in nature and should be afforded more protection than written reports. Only two of our records specialists (both supervisors) have access to"

Logue appealed and eventually the two sides came to a solution in which "a single person would maintain the access and forward the appropriate evidence to the appropriate individuals within the office," according to a letter Logue sent to Asst. Chief Craig Meidl. 

The solution is similar to the agreement SPD has with the County Prosecutor's Office. However, as of yet, it has not been implemented.

"The point of this to me is, for example, if I was going to do a death case investigation, and I had seven assistant investigators, they all need access to those files," Logue says. "If we're saying that the police files are solely limited to the ombudsman, it will grind the pace of these investigations to nonexistent." 

For Logue, requesting office-wide access to body camera footage is part of a wider discussion about arriving at clearer definitions of the ombudsman's responsibility in Spokane.

"The body camera debate is a good example of a limitation on access to files, which can hinder a timely investigation," Logue says. "I'll continue to push this so I can appropriately define the different roles within the office." 

In Griffin's letter, he argues the OPO refers to the singular ombudsman, not the entire office (Griffin did not immediately respond to requests for comment).

In his response, Logue corrects Griffin, citing the city's code, which says "the OPO will have unimpeded access to all complaint and investigative files from OPO Involved Investigations for auditing and reporting purposes." 

OPO refers to the Office of Police Ombudsman, not the singular person.

Also in his response letter, Griffin asks five questions:

1. For what purpose will the Ombudsman's assistant be reviewing video on
2. What process, specifically, will the Ombudsman's assistant follow when reviewing video in
3. What specifically will the Ombudsman assistant do with any information gleaned from reviewing video in
4. If the information gleaned from reviewing video in is to be passed onto any other person(s), what format will that be done in? For example a summary or just listing the section of video that needs to be reviewed by the Ombudsman (OPO)?
5. The Guild requests acknowledgement that any review of video in shall only be done in connection with a formal complaint and that no review of video will be done outside that restriction.

Logue answered them, which you can read for yourself below, but the gist is that it's not up to the police department or the Guild to control how the ombudsman's office is run.

"I don't think SPD (Spokane Police Department) should have any role in the inner workings of the Office of Police Ombudsman," Logue tells the Inlander. "I mean, do they have any role in how the prosecutor's office is set up? They have a far more stringent role in police discipline than I do."

Logue adds that he doesn't blame the department or the Guild for questioning his request: 

"With labor law in Washington state, I think they have the right to question it," he says. "But they have to provide justification." 

OPO Response to Guild Demand to Bargain

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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.