Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A look at the defense strategy of the SPD cop accused of rape

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2018 at 2:22 PM

The last time witnesses saw the woman, she was being held up by then-Spokane Police Sgt. Gordon Ennis as he walked her to a guest bedroom, according to court records. Moments before, witnesses say, the woman and Ennis had embraced in a hug after a drunken house party had settled down.
click to enlarge A look at the defense strategy of the SPD cop accused of rape
Gordon Ennis

Witnesses have told detectives that earlier in the evening, the woman was so intoxicated that she threw up, was given a change of clothes and passed out in a guest bedroom.

The woman, who is also an SPD officer, does not remember much of that night in October 2015, but she does remember waking up with Ennis sitting on the edge of the bed with his fingers inside her, according to court documents.

Ennis is now charged with second-degree rape, and his trial begins this week in Spokane. In pretrial motions, the nature of that hug he shared with the woman emerged as a crucial point of dispute between prosecutors and Ennis' defense team, headed by attorney Rob Cossey.

In court documents, Cossey argues that the nature of the hug is a major component of Ennis' defense, speaking to the issue of consent.

Spokane prosecutors Kelly Fitzgerald and Kyle Treece had initially argued that SPD Officer Doug Strosahl, who hosted the house party, should be prohibited from describing for the jury the nature of the hug, which he witnessed.

In June 2017, prosecutors argued in court documents (emphasis added): "While it may be permissible for Doug Strosahl to describe what he witnessed, the legal issue is presented when he is asked to interpret the meaning of what he saw. Specifically whether or not the actions of the victim indicated a desire for sexual contact. Not only is this speculation, it also involves a legal conclusion regarding the defendant's behavior, which is ultimately a conclusion only the jury must make."

Then, in February 2018, prosecutors again argued in court documents: "Consent is a core issue in this case as counsel has indicated they will be proffering this defense to the jury. Doug Strosahl's conclusion as to the nature of the intent/purpose of the hug is speculative. Doug Strosahl has no way to know the victim's state of mind at the time of the event. In addition, there are other equally plausible explanations. ... It could have been the result of the victim being highly intoxicated and having difficulty maintaining her balance."

Prosecutors have since withdrawn the request to limit Strosahl's characterization of the hug.

Ennis, through his attorney, had argued that Strosahl's interpretation of the embrace with the woman shortly before the alleged assault was necessary to give the jury context and "a clearer picture of the events."

"None of the jurors will be able to see the type of contacts that occurred between the defendant and alleged victim on October 25, 2015," Cossey writes in court documents. "The state ... suggests that the court prohibit any and all witness testimony that may tend to illuminate the alleged victim's relationship with [the] defendant. The alleged victim's appearance and demeanor is a key component of understanding the facts at issue in this case."

According to witness accounts of the moments before the alleged assault, the woman was passed-out in a guest bedroom and then walked into Strosahl's kitchen around 2:30 am where he, his then-fiancé Heather Lickfold and Ennis were gathered. Both Strosahl and Lickfold saw the woman and Ennis embrace in a hug.

Lickfold told detectives that she "did not know if the hug was flirty or just due to [the victim's] intoxication."

Strosahl and Lickfold went to bed shortly after. The last thing either of them saw was Ennis walking the victim back to the guest bedroom, records state.

"[The victim] had her arms around Gordon [Ennis]'s neck and he was holding her up," Lickfold told detectives. "[The victim] was 'looking around, kind of engaging, and stumbling but not falling down.'"

This week, attorneys are picking from an unusually large pool of about 125 potential jurors. Prosecutors could call up to 20 witnesses, including party guests, forensic experts, Spokane police officers and Spokane County Sheriff's detectives who investigated the alleged rape, according to court documents.

Cossey's list of witnesses names six people including Doug Strosahl and his now-wife, Heather Strosahl, as well as SPD Sgt. Michael McNab, who was the victim's supervisor at the time of the alleged rape. Ennis is not on the list.

UPDATED: This post has been updated to reflect the fact prosecutors recently withdrew their pretrial motion arguing that Doug Strosahl be prohibited from characterizing the nature of a hug between the alleged victim and Gordon Ennis.

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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.