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'Evil Intent' 

Monique Cotton resigns from Spokane's parks division; plus, Washington state lawmakers take up the issue of police violence

Cotton resigns

click to enlarge Former Spokane police spokesperson Monique Cotton
  • Former Spokane police spokesperson Monique Cotton

While raising concerns about sexual harassment from SPOKANE POLICE Chief Frank Straub last April, former police department spokeswoman Monique Cotton asked the mayor for two big things: Confidentiality regarding her allegations, and a new job away from Straub. She was promised both. She ended up with neither.

In November, records requests revealed Cotton's allegations and the city's role in covering them up to the public. Now, after less than a year in her new role as the Parks and Recreation division's marketing and communication manager, Cotton has announced her resignation.

In particular, Cotton's attorney, Bob Dunn, lays the blame at the feet of the Spokane Park Board, arguing that Cotton was the victim of internal battles between the board and the city administration.

"She wanted to be employed by the city," says Dunn. "And she was, until the Park Board got their britches in a twist and decided they wanted to make her an example."

Cotton's placement in the parks division had irritated some board members, who were concerned that the city was abusing its expanded power over hiring and firing in the parks division. Dunn says that Cotton felt the brunt of the board members' skepticism, citing negative interactions during meetings and the reduction in her public outreach budget.

As early as October — before the sexual harassment allegations were made public — Park Board members had urged a public hiring process for Cotton's position.

Dunn argues that by requiring Cotton to reapply for her job, there was a "breach of the agreement by the mayor and [City Administrator Theresa Sanders] saying she would have a position away from the police department."

He suggests that because of Cotton's talent and experience, she should have been a shoo-in, instead of having to compete with other applicants.

"She was being retaliated against for being a whistleblower," Dunn argues. "This is a toxic environment for women working for the city in Spokane."

So far, Cotton has refrained from filing a lawsuit against the city, unlike Straub or Nancy Goodspeed, the parks division spokesman Cotton effectively replaced. Dunn suggests that reticence may change now.

"She should have filed a claim a year ago," he says. (DANIEL WALTERS)

Malicious mindset

Washington state law protects law enforcement officers from facing criminal charges for killing someone in the line of duty as long as they didn't do so maliciously and acted in "good faith."

A bill sponsored by 12 Democrats in the House of Representatives would remove that legal definition known as "EVIL INTENT" and aims to clarify when the use of force is justifiable and when it is not.

In September, the Seattle Times called Washington state's definition "the nation's most restrictive law on holding officers accountable for the unjustified use of deadly force." According to the report, only one officer has been criminally charged in state courts in the three decades since the law was enacted in 1986.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says the law provides officers with a necessary protection.

"I don't know how else you'd be able to really do the job," Knezovich says. "Put yourself in the position of a police officer who has to make a decision, knowing, 'I can do this 100 percent correct, and depending on the political climate, I can still be charged for it.' Most crimes in the state of Washington require some kind of mental state to be proven."

The ACLU of Washington has come out in support of changing the law it says prevents prosecutors from filing criminal charges against officers.

"To bring greater accountability to police statewide, the most important action our legislature should take is a change to state law on use of force," executive director Kathleen Taylor says by email. "Malice should not be the standard for filing charges in police killings, as it ensures that charges will almost never be brought against an officer for killing a civilian."

The bill, which stems from draft legislation prepared by the Black Alliance of Thurston County, is in the House Public Safety Committee.

It may struggle to attract votes in Democratic-controlled House, with some representatives from rural, conservative districts — not to mention the Republican-controlled Senate. (MITCH RYALS)

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