Spokane Police Guild demands removal of ombudsman from investigation into allegedly violent arrest

click to enlarge Spokane Police Guild demands removal of ombudsman from investigation into allegedly violent arrest
Young Kwak photo
Ombudsman Bart Logue

The Spokane Police Guild is demanding that Ombudsman Bart Logue — the law enforcement agency's civilian watchdog — be removed from an internal investigation into a recent, allegedly violent, arrest, claiming that he is not impartial and has violated city policy.

In a letter sent to Logue, Mayor David Condon, Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, and other officials on June 26, Kris Honaker, president of the Spokane Police Guild, states that the union "demands Logue be excluded" from an Internal Affairs investigation into a February 2019 arrest.

During the incident, officers allegedly threatened to kill a suspect in an immobilized car, and hoisted a police dog into the vehicle to attack the suspect after he surrendered.

An Internal Affairs investigation wasn't opened into the incident until after Logue was notified of body camera footage depicting the altercation by Brian Breen, a local blogger. After watching the footage, Logue subsequently filed a complaint in late May in order to trigger an Internal Affairs investigation into the incident. The inquiry is ongoing.

The purported contents of the body camera footage also alarmed the Spokane City Council, who requested access to the footage in late May. The Police Guild agreed — but only if the entire council signed nondisclosure agreements, which all seven members refused to do. (Chief Meidl has promised to release the footage to the public once the Internal Affairs investigation is complete.)

In his letter, Honaker writes that Logue's "failure to exclude himself" from the investigation will be a "basis for the guild to object to the results of the investigation and any discipline that may result."

Under the existing city ordinance governing the Office of the Police Ombudsman (OPO), Logue has the authority to participate in Internal Affairs investigations into citizen complaints of police misconduct by observing and asking questions. He can also decide whether or not to certify said investigations as timely, thorough, and objective. The ombudsman does not, however, have the authority to dictate the outcomes of internal investigations or any subsequent discipline — that responsibility lies solely with the SPD chain of command.

Honaker makes a slew of allegations that purportedly disqualify Logue from being involved in the investigation. For instance, he argues that Logue himself is the complainant, constituting a conflict of interest. (In a rebuttal email, Logue disputes this, claiming that Breen was technically the original complainant and that the name in the investigation file was altered by SPD staff.)

"The Spokane Police Guild objects to the presence of Mr. Logue participating in interviews or certification of this investigation," Honaker writes. "Logue is the complainant in this matter. This immediately puts him in a conflicted role."

Honaker's allegations don't end there. He goes on to claim that Logue wrongly watched the body camera footage from the incident before a formal complaint was filed and that "Logue or other OPOP employees" released confidential information to media outlets. He also alleges Logue inappropriately accused the department of "circumventing the normal complaint process" and said that the body camera footage made him "sick to his stomach" in public statements to the media.

Broadly, Honaker also asserts that Logue has violated city ethics policy and the policy governing the conduct of his office.

"Logue's conduct brings into question his ability to serve as a fair and impartial presence to ensure a thorough complete objective investigation," he writes. "For all these reasons the guild demands Logue be excluded from this investigation until it is complete."

In a internal May 22 email to SPD officials, Logue did raise concerns that department leadership — including Chief Meidl — "downplayed" the significance of the event in conversations with him and that the interactions gave him pause to "consider whether or not SPD may have deliberately chose to circumvent the normal complaint process, and therefore, undermine oversight of this matter." (Meidl has denied this.) However, Honaker's letter incorrectly attributes the quote about the body camera footage to Logue; it was Council President Ben Stuckart, who told the Inlander that what he had heard of the video made him "sick to his stomach."

In response to the letter, Logue sent a fiery rebuttal email on June 26 and copied numerous city officials on it.

"I strenuously object to these defamatory and false allegations," he writes. "I will consult with the city attorney and a personal attorney for an appropriate response."

He goes on to claim that SPD Internal Affairs changed the complainant from Brian Breen to him at the "direction" of Jacqui MacConnell, SPD's director of strategic initiatives: "This action, in and of itself, continues to show SPD’s mishandling of this matter." (Michele Anderson, an SPD spokesperson, declined to comment on this particular allegation, citing the ongoing Internal Affairs investigation.)

"That, in combination with this [letter], calls into question whether or not SPD can legitimately investigate this case," Logue adds. He also recommends in the email that the case be "investigated by a third party."

When asked about the guild's demand and his rebuttal, Logue writes via text: "My entire goal is simply an investigative process which I can certify as timely, thorough, and objective. Anything outside of that process rests with the chief of police."

Chief Meidl writes in a text that he has "directed Internal Affairs to proceed as we normally would following our protocol," adding that he has no intention of "trying to influence" whether or not Logue participates in the internal investigation into the February arrest.

Marlene Feist, a spokesperson for the city, did not respond to a request for comment.

Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs tells the Inlander that this latest spat is indicative of the need for an update to the ordinance governing the OPO, which was approved by voters and the City Council in 2013. However, the council backed away from increasing the power of the ombudsman's office in an attempt to maintain a contract agreement between the city and the police union.

"This whole episode shows that the OPO ordinance needs to get overhauled and fixed," Beggs says. "If this had been a formal investigation that the ombudsman was included in from the beginning, then there wouldn't have been this heartburn of it."

Beggs adds that the ombudsman has no statutory authority to dictate or influence the outcome of an Internal Affairs investigation: "He doesn’t get to impact the investigation decision," he says. "They [SPD leadership] don’t consult with him and ask him what they should do."

Reached by text, Council President Ben Stuckart blasted the Spokane Police Guild's demand that Logue be removed from the inquiry and called for a separate "independent investigation."

"We absolutely must have our independent ombudsman involved," he writes. "The only ones biased in the situation seem to be those that said [the February arrest] was not a situation that arises to the level of an internal investigation."