News

Monday, June 12, 2017

Safer Spokane submits oil and coal train initiative signatures, aiming to get on November ballot

Posted By on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 4:16 PM

Jim Lee with the Safer Spokane campaign hands in roughly 5,200 signatures at the Spokane City Clerk's office on Monday as other volunteers and supporters, including City Councilman Breean Beggs (right), look on. The citizens initiative, which would levy a fine on oil and coal train cars unless safety measures are taken, needs about half that number of signatures to qualify for the November ballot. - SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL
  • Samantha Wohlfeil
  • Jim Lee with the Safer Spokane campaign hands in roughly 5,200 signatures at the Spokane City Clerk's office on Monday as other volunteers and supporters, including City Councilman Breean Beggs (right), look on. The citizens initiative, which would levy a fine on oil and coal train cars unless safety measures are taken, needs about half that number of signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Dozens of oil and coal trains roll through Spokane every week, something that Safer Spokane organizers worry puts the city at undue risk.

That's why the group is promoting a citizens initiative, which they're calling Proposition 6, that would essentially levy a $261 fine (per car) on the owners of uncovered rail cars full of coal, and tank cars carrying unconditioned crude oil.

Organizers turned in 5,200 signatures at Spokane City Hall on Monday afternoon, more than the needed 2,585 signatures, which means city voters will likely be asked to decide on the measure in November.

It's still got a ways to go, though.

First, the County Auditor's office will verify that at least the minimum number of signatures match registered city voters and aren't duplicated, and then send that back to the city clerk.

Then, the City Council has to agree to put the measure on the November ballot by Aug. 1, according to the Auditor's office.

Along the way, it's likely to face heavy criticism, as it has already.

C

ritics of the measure, including railroad companies, say that local governments don't have jurisdiction over rail transportation, but Safer Spokane organizers argue that Congress allows local jurisdictions to put rules in place when it comes to local safety risks.

"The railcar owners could avoid liability by simply covering the coal cars and pre-conditioning the oil to remove the highly flammable liquid gas like they do in Texas," Safer Spokane states under the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of its website. "The law would not ban oil or coal trains, but would require modest safety measures to substantially reduce the chances of a fiery derailment in downtown Spokane."

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Maryland, D.C. sue Trump over emoluments clauses, Riverfront Park pavilion's cover up in the air, and morning headlines

Posted By on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 9:24 AM


ON INLANDER.COM


NEWS: A Spokane public defender who helps defend poor and disadvantaged clients is recognized for his work, which among other things includes hosting a free legal clinic and being a leader in Spokane's Community Court.
pavilion.jpg

NEWS: To cover it, or not to cover it? That's the question the Spokane Park Board has put off voting on until next month, while they get more information about what it would take to cover the U.S. Pavilion in Riverfront Park.  

WHAT'S UP?
 Looking for something to do this week? We've got you covered, from baseball to music, food to film.


IN OTHER NEWS

First time for everything
Maryland and D.C. attorneys general filed a lawsuit against President Trump today, alleging that because he hasn't cut ties with his businesses, he's violating the emoluments clauses of the U.S. Constitution, which the New York Times reports is a first: "The complaint enters uncharted legal territory: No state has previously accused a president of violating the emoluments clauses."

Operation 'restoration'

Crews have finished replanting saplings where more than a mile of trees were illegally bulldozed in April, the Spokesman-Review reports. It remains to be seen if the young trees will weather the hot summer, concerned parties pointed out.

Open Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify before Congress on Tuesday; he'll likely be asked about what ousted FBI Director James Comey meant last week when he said the FBI had information "that would have made it 'problematic' for Sessions to be involved in the probe" into Russia and the 2016 election (before he recused himself), reports the Washington Post.
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Friday, June 9, 2017

Spokane public defender recognized for dedication to helping poor defendants

Posted By on Fri, Jun 9, 2017 at 4:52 PM

Francis Adewale, a public defender for the city of Spokane, is being recognized for his work with the poor and disadvantaged.
  • Francis Adewale, a public defender for the city of Spokane, is being recognized for his work with the poor and disadvantaged.

When Spokane public defender Francis Adewale first arrived in the United States — and eventually in Spokane — from his home country of Nigeria, his image of America was rocked.

"I never believed that people in America would be living under bridges," Adewale says. "The image of America is prosperity. So when I came here and saw that my clients were on the streets, I really put my heart into this."

Adewale is one of the leaders of the city of Spokane's innovative Community Court, which handles quality-of-life crimes and pushes people toward services and away from jail.

Adewale also runs a free legal clinic in Spokane Valley, and tonight he's being honored for his work with the President's Award from the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The award is given for "achievement in a particular case or series of related cases, or long-time service to the criminal defense bar," according to a news release from the association.

"Francis' professional and personal life has been dedicated to community outreach to the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our communities," says Kathy Knox, who runs the city's public defender office. "And he is well-deserving of this award."

In a phone conversation ahead of the ceremony in Chelan, Washington, Adewale tells the story of his move to the U.S. Almost on a whim, a friend entered him in the application lottery for a green card. He moved here without knowing a soul.

After living in Washington, D.C., for a couple of years, Adewale took a job with the city's public defender office in Spokane. He won his first six trials, he jokes, in spite of his heavy African accent.

"Jurors were willing to give me a chance," he says. "I had DUI cases, domestic violence cases, and my accent then wasn't as good as it is now. But jurors were willing to take time and listen to me, and give me a chance to make an argument for my client."

That patience, he says, was heartening, and since 2013, he has worked closely in a team made of prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges to shape the Community Court, which has become a model for other cities.

Recently, the city announced the therapeutic court will expand into other neighborhoods. The court currently handles crimes in the downtown core.

In 2013, Adewale received the first City of Spokane Human Rights Award. In addition to Community Court, he's established the American Law and Justice Workshop to help educate immigrants about the U.S. legal system, and has served on multiple committees within the Washington State Bar Association and the Washington Supreme Court. He's also on the Governor's Statewide Reentry Council, which helps former inmates transition back into the community.

"What I'm doing now [in Community Court] is a lot tougher than going to trial," Adewale says. "I'm looking people in the eye and telling them they need to change their lives completely. Some of them have never lived in a home."
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Uncoverup? Voters were told that Riverfront Park's U.S. Pavilion would be covered, but now the Park Board is not so sure

Just how bound should the board be by the original design presented to voters?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 9, 2017 at 3:39 PM

An ad encouraging voters to support a bond to revitalize Riverfront Park shows a multimedia-equipped dome covering inside the U.S. Pavilion. - RIVERFRONT PARK TV AD
  • Riverfront Park TV ad
  • An ad encouraging voters to support a bond to revitalize Riverfront Park shows a multimedia-equipped dome covering inside the U.S. Pavilion.


Call it a promise, call it a proposal, call it a plan, or call it a possibility.

But before the Riverfront Park bond was passed in 2014 — and in the months after — public officials repeatedly articulated a plan for the park bond that including covering the U.S. Pavilion, either by stretching material on the outside of the skeleton webbing or building a dome-like structure inside.

Time and time again, the message was clear: One way or another, the space inside the pavilion would be covered.

Yet in a vote Monday, the Riverfront Park subcommittee of the Spokane Park Board — including Inlander Publisher Ted S. McGregor Jr. — voted to support the park's design team's recommendation to not cover the pavilion after all, though it might allow partial covering or shading.

Instead, the proposed design featured a series of platforms and walkways that would allow visitors to ascend the structure and take in the views of the park.

It was a decision that left Randy Cameron, Park Board president when the 2014 bond was passed, fuming. In a Facebook post this week, Cameron wrote that the pavilion was the "centerpiece" of the Riverfront Park master plan placed on the ballot, and getting rid of the covering was "OUTRAGEOUS!"

"The Pavilion ALWAYS was to have lights, sound and projection without distortion. Throughout the 2014 Park Bond / Street Levy campaign, EVERY image of the pavilion showed the cover and projection," Cameron wrote. "It was often said that it would rival the Sydney Opera House and now the board and parks director have amnesia?"

At a lengthy meeting yesterday, the Park Board opted to table a vote on ditching plans to fully cover the pavilion until next month, asking the outside design-build team to gather more information.

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County settles with three innocent men for millions, Theresa May botches UK election, and other morning headlines

Posted By on Fri, Jun 9, 2017 at 9:57 AM

The county's insurance is coughing up a massive settlement for  putting these innocent men in jail for nearly 5 years. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
  • Young Kwak photo
  • The county's insurance is coughing up a massive settlement for putting these innocent men in jail for nearly 5 years.

ON INLANDER.COM

Your category is: 'Headlines Ozzie doesn't like'

Remember the Otto Zehm settlement, after a mentally disabled janitor was fatally beaten by a Spokane cop in 2006? That was $1.67 million. Well, the county's insurer just settled with three innocent men, who had been jailed for nearly five years, for $2.25 million. The sheriff's own Internal Affairs investigator admitted in an investigation that it had been "extremely poor police work." Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, however, isn't happy with the Inlander headline that connects the settlement with the "extremely poor police work."

Disciplinary issues

The ACLU has sued the state superintendent's office for the way the state is handling discipline against students with disabilities.

So loud the Leppard went Def
Our Dan Nailen picks his Poison — and Tesla and Def Leppard — to review their very familiar concert.


IN OTHER NEWS

Water, water everywhere, and you can drink it if you want
After weeks, Airway Heights' water is finally safe again. (Spokesman-Review)

Teeny trees
A local company is turning the tiny, thin trees that firefighters clear out for fire danger into usable timber. We wrote about this back in April. (Spokesman-Review, Inlander)

Labour powers; May cowers
'Twas hubris, they say,
when it comes to British Prime Minister May
Who called an election throughout all the UK
And foolishly frittered her power away. (BBC)

Comey's revenge
Former FBI Director James Comey calls President Trump a liar (not just once, but five times), and Trump calls Comey a liar right back. Who are you going to believe? The man obsessed with his own personal integrity, or the guy whose own attorneys met with him in pairs because they didn't believe he would be honest? (Vox, TMZ, Buzzfeed)
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Thursday, June 8, 2017

ACLU sues Washington OSPI for wrongful discipline of students with disabilities

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 4:50 PM


The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington has 
Washington state schools chief Chris Reykdal says "we were surprised" by the lawsuit.
  • Washington state schools chief Chris Reykdal says "we were surprised" by the lawsuit.
sued the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, arguing that students who require special education are wrongfully disciplined and forced out of public schools.

Students with special needs are suspended or expelled at a disproportionately higher rate than other students across Washington — special education students represent 14 percent of students, but make up 30 percent of suspended and expelled students, according to ACLU of Washington.

In Spokane Public Schools, special education students made up 13 percent of the student population, but a third of the total suspensions and expulsions halfway through the 2016-17 school year, according to numbers released by the district in February.

"Washington's constitution guarantees every child in the state the right to a public education," says Emily Chiang, the ACLU of Washington legal director representing the plaintiffs in the case. "For the tens of thousands of students with disabilities who are suspended, expelled, or otherwise excluded from classrooms each year due to behavior related to their disabilities, this is an empty promise."

Washington OSPI Superintendent Chris Reykdal, reached by phone Thursday, says that "we were surprised" by the lawsuit. He says he hasn't had a chance to read through it yet, but that OSPI takes "very seriously" the work of setting the policies and legal framework for schools to use best practices for special needs students.

"It's important that districts get the support they need," Reykdal says, not speaking specifically about the lawsuit. "And we're prepared to do that."

The lawsuit claims that the special needs students are actually disciplined more than what is reported, since schools use an "informal method" of suspension where a school will call a parent and ask them to pick up their child from school early. The high discipline rates mean that students with special needs miss classroom instruction, according to the lawsuit, and "deprives these students of their right to an education in violation of the state constitution," and anti-discrimination laws. The lawsuit places the blame on OSPI for failing to monitor and supervise Washington schools. It specifically names Reykdal, who took over as superintendent this year, as a defendant.

"Defendants have long been aware of the widespread disproportionate discipline of special education students in these district, but have failed to take adequate steps to safeguard the rights of these students," the lawsuit claims.

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Wrongly convicted men to receive $2.25 million in settlement after 'extremely poor police work'

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 1:46 PM

FROM LEFT: Robert Larson, Paul Statler and Tyler Gassman
  • FROM LEFT: Robert Larson, Paul Statler and Tyler Gassman

How much is enough to make innocent men whole after they've spent nearly five years in prison for a crime they didn't commit?

The answer, apparently, is $2.25 million — the amount that Spokane County's insurer agreed to pay to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit that alleged "reckless" detective work and witness tampering by police. But for the three men wrongfully convicted of an armed robbery in 2009, there are some holes in their lives that money will never fill.

"It devastated me and my family," says Robert Larson, one of the three wrongly convicted men. Larson says the strain of his conviction contributed to his parents splitting up. Then, his father died only months after Larson was released, he says: "I can't describe it."

Larson, along with Paul Statler and Tyler Gassman, were released from prison in 2012 after their convictions were overturned. They've been working to rebuild their lives and clear their names ever since.

"I don't think it's enough money for what they went through, but it's our hope that it helps them move forward, and that the Sheriff's Office takes it very seriously and takes steps to prevent this from happening in the future," says Micah LeBank, the men's attorney.

Following the agreement, however, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich told the Spokesman-Review that he believes the case should have gone to trial and "all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary."

"They had no case, and that is evident in that they received $750k each," Knezovich writes via text message to the Inlander. "A case like this is valued at $15-20 million each if true. Settlements happen when [the] plaintiff has a weak or no case."

In sworn testimony ahead of the settlement, Knezovich has defended the work of the two detectives — Bill Francis and Doug Marske — whose problematic investigation led to the bad convictions. Knezovich says the detectives conducted a thorough investigation, despite his own sergeant's conclusion to the contrary following an internal review.

The sheriff's reaction is typical of other high-profile settlements with his office.

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Is the local medical examiner ignoring evidence of murder? Comey hopes there are tapes, and morning headlines

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 10:08 AM


ON INLANDER.COM

NEWS: Grieving families question official rulings by the Spokane County medical examiners in the deaths of their loved ones. Those determinations, they say, may have stalled or derailed law enforcement investigations, and left them without answers. Read their stories here.

MUSIC: Everything you need to know about the free Browne's Addition music festival and the unofficial start of summer in Spokane — Elkfest.

CULTURE:
 The Coeur d'Alene Casino is offering multiple opportunities for guests to get acquainted with sacred pieces of Native American tribal culture.

Former FBI Director James Comey, fired by President Trump last month, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning. He asserted  that Trump lied when he claimed that the FBI had lost confidence in Comey.
  • Former FBI Director James Comey, fired by President Trump last month, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning. He asserted that Trump lied when he claimed that the FBI had lost confidence in Comey.

IN OTHER NEWS

'Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?'
Former FBI Director James Comey, in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning, recalled King Henry II's cry that led to the murder of an archbishop who was standing up to the king.

Comey, who said that President Trump lied when he asserted that the FBI has lost confidence in Comey, also confirmed that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was under criminal investigation while Flynn worked in the White House. (New York Times)

Comey added that Trump asked him to drop the investigation into Flynn during a private conversation between the two. A special counsel has been appointed to investigate whether Trump's actions amount to obstruction of justice. (Washington Post)

Read the full transcript of Comey's testimony here; finally, Comey called on Trump to release "tapes" of their conversations that the president has suggested exist. (Politico)


Blurred lines
A Spokane city prosecutor has been arrested on suspicion of driving drunk while his child was in the car. Adam Papini, who prosecutes DUIs and is running for municipal judge, blew a .161 after his Ford Mustang was seen weaving on a Cheney road. Papini, who was cited and released, is part of the team that runs Spokane's innovative community court, which handles quality-of-life crimes in the downtown core. (Spokesman-Review)

Asylum in Canada
Hundreds of immigrants reportedly use Washington state as a stepping stone to escape to Canada, where they might be more welcome. (Seattle Times)

Sitting Golden
The Golden State Warriors rallied late to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third time in a row, and stand on the verge of their second NBA title in three years. (SB Nation)
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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Spokane families worry that Medicaid cuts could hinder care for loved ones with disabilities

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 1:44 PM

Protesters in downtown Spokane gather in front of elected officials' offices in opposition to AHCA proposals. - FORREST HOLT PHOTO
  • Forrest Holt photo
  • Protesters in downtown Spokane gather in front of elected officials' offices in opposition to AHCA proposals.

Darci Ladwig is a concerned mother who turned to activism to advocate for her 14-year-old daughter, who has disabilities stemming from a premature birth.

She fears that if Medicaid support is cut, her daughter could have to move to a state institution, separating her from her community.

Ladwig spoke at a rally Tuesday put on by The Arc of Spokane, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. She and other organizers were there to protest changes to Medicaid as proposed in the American Health Care Act (AHCA). It was one of nine demonstrations across the country.

"Medicaid makes it possible for people to have jobs and living situations. These people are our neighbors, friends and family members," Ladwig says. "AHCA could have devastating effects."

The crowd of about 30 gathered in front of the downtown offices of Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

People with disabilities and their family members addressed the group, sharing their experiences and distributing contact information for state legislators and members of Congress, urging their peers to make their voices heard.

One mother held two gallon-sized plastic bags full of medicines that her child has to take every day. Another man spoke of his struggles with bipolar disorder and accessing the right kind of care.

Specifically, the protesters rallied against provisions in the AHCA that would limit the amount of money the federal government could give to states as compensation for what they spend on health care services.

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New portal Measures for Justice publishes county-level criminal justice data in Washington

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 12:16 PM


The Spokane County Jail was bursting at the seams in 2
mfj_logo.png
013. The average daily population of 897 inmates that year far surpassed the 672 "rated" jail beds — 133.5 percent over maximum capacity.

A jail's "rated" capacity is the number of inmates at which it can operate safely. Notably, Spokane County says the maximum capacity between its two facilities (Spokane County Jail and Geiger Corrections Center) is 896.

The 2013 numbers come from a new criminal justice data portal, Measures for Justice, that recently launched a user-friendly website with county-level justice data for six states: Washington is one of them.

The goal of the project is to compile often difficult-to-obtain local criminal justice data in order to measure decision points within each county and state, focusing on fair process, public safety and fiscal responsibility.

For example you can explore data for jail capacity, court fines and charge reductions and dismissals, among other categories.

Most of those points allow you to filter the data by race, gender, age, severity of offense, offense type and court type, depending on data availability.

For example: Nonwhite felony defendants in Whitman County had their cases dismissed at a slightly higher rate than white defendants (1.02 to 1), but white defendants in Spokane County had their cases dismissed at a higher rate than nonwhite defendants (1.18 to 1). In Okanogan County the ratio is 1.66 white-defendant cases dismissed to 1 nonwhite-defendant case dismissed. (Data spans the period from 2009 to 2013.)

In another example: 52.5 percent of people in Spokane who were required to pay court fines and fees failed to do so, which is about on par with defendants statewide. Defendants in Yakima County were the worst court fee delinquents — nearly 70 percent of defendants failed to pay their fines.

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