For three months, Bart Logue has been treading in uncharted waters. Spokane's interim police ombudsman was hired in February for a four-month term following a yearlong vacancy in the Office of Police Ombudsman.
The five-member citizen commission recently renewed Logue's contract for another four months as applications for the permanent job roll in.
Since then, Logue has worked to create the mold for police oversight and accountability in Spokane — recently visiting three other cities to get a sense of how the job is done elsewhere and developing a set of policies and procedures, which, he says, does not yet exist.
As far as casework, Logue says he has split his time between participating in the fresh internal affairs cases and chipping away at the backlog left from 2015 after former ombudsman Tim Burns left. As of this week, he's cleared about 25 percent of the backlogged cases that were within the 180-day time limit for officers to face discipline. Of the 109 backlogged cases, 82 of them were beyond that deadline. So far, he's certified nearly 35, and has sent back 20 to the police with more questions. In one of the cases he's declined to certify, the accused officers weren't initially interviewed.
In a special meeting of the ombudsman commission last month, city leaders and activists weighed in on potential revisions to the ordinance that gives the ombudsman authority. Much of the criticism was focused on the definition of independence, and whether or not the ombudsman's office can conduct truly independent investigations, as called for in the city charter. When Logue stepped to the mic, he asked the community to come up with goals, and let those inform an ordinance rewrite.
"We can say independent all day long, but what is the end product that we're looking for?" he asked a group of about 15 people gathered in council chambers that evening. "That's what I need, and that's what I want, and that's what I'll give you as soon as we can define it."
Since then, Logue agreed to sit down with the Inlander for a more in-depth look at his work. He talked about his visits to police oversight offices in Seattle, Portland and Eugene, Oregon, his thoughts on the investigation into Capt. Brad Arleth's insubordination and how he's potentially pushing the boundaries of his authority.
"I'm not an advocate for the complainant and I'm not an advocate for the police department," Logue says. "I'm an advocate for knowing the story and making sure we've answered the questions, whatever those answers may be."
THE ARLETH CASE
The first case Logue reviewed was the investigation into Capt. Brad Arleth, which found that the 24-year veteran of the department was insubordinate when he moved furniture from the previous downtown precinct to the new location at the Intermodal Center.
Logue did not sit in on the interviews as he typically does, but rather reviewed the investigatory file before making a decision to certify it as timely, thorough and objective.
"I think for us, being outside of the police department, and really functioning on the premise that we do not affect officer discipline, limits what you can say, for sure," he says.
That doesn't mean Logue doesn't have thoughts on the case.
"The guy is a police captain. I come from an environment where I'm very rank-conscious in the Marines, and we expect people in leadership positions to perform leadership functions," he says, adding, "I think Captain Arleth was well within his rights to push for appropriate furniture for appropriate facilities. The washrooms not being sufficient for the employees, all those things are minutia, but they're important for morale. And I think I would be concerned if he wasn't thinking about those things, and if he was just accepting whatever task carte blanche."
Under the ordinance, Logue is allowed to make policy and training recommendations, but is explicitly disallowed from making any disciplinary recommendations.
In other cases, Logue has given informal recommendations to police leadership, either in passing or in a letter, for more training and review. In one of those cases, his review of body camera footage caused him to pause.
Following the investigation, he spoke with Asst. Chief Craig Meidl, Maj. Justin Lundgren, who oversees the internal affairs department, and Sgt. John Griffin, president of the Spokane Police Guild, and suggested that the officer would benefit from watching the body camera footage with a supervisor and talking about what could have been done differently.
"Although the ordinance constrains me to certifying as timely, thorough and objective, I felt I was morally responsible to talk about this case with leadership," Logue says. "I think this police officer would be professional enough to want to [review the video] and recognize and change behavior — a learning experience. Not a disciplinary thing, not a counsel."
Currently, Logue says, there is no "neat" mechanism for him to make such suggestions. Even informally, he's pushing it a little. He says he plans to make recommendations to define what he can say, and how he can say it, following an investigation.
"Right now I'm just tossing stuff in the wind, and hoping people are paying attention," he says. "It's a busy environment over there."
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
From the beginning, ombudsman commission members have criticized the hiring process, which they say is plagued by feet-dragging and weighed down in bureaucracy. It took the selection committee, tasked with producing a pool of three applicants, about six months following Burns' departure to come up with those three names.
One of the candidates was immediately eliminated from consideration for controversial comments he made on a news website, and the commission decided to hire private investigators to vet the remaining two. Those investigations whittled the pool down to one — Raheel Humayun, who lives in Canada.
By November 2015, Humayun accepted the permanent job on the condition that he could secure a visa within a certain amount of time. The city contracted with a law firm in Bellingham to help prepare that application. The contract was submitted to the city in late November, but went unsigned for more than a month, delaying the application, which eventually was denied.
The next option was to apply for another visa that would have allowed Humayun to start work in Spokane in October. However, the city's human resources department delayed filing some paperwork and then ended up sending the wrong document. By the time they realized the mistake, the April 1 deadline had passed.
"They could have filed those documents months earlier when they knew we could end up applying for the [second visa]," says ombudsman commission chairwoman Deb Conklin. "And they didn't do anything until [Humayun] was turned down. Had they filed the paperwork sooner, there would have been time to fix it, but because they refused to do so until it was too late, there was no room for mistake."
All totaled — the background investigations and the visa applications and fees — the city spent just over $7,350 on a process that has now started all over, according to city records.
Although he wants to make clear that he respects the integrity of the selection process and does not want to influence the commission's decision, Logue has applied for the permanent position. The only potential disqualifier is his address. He lives about four miles into Spokane Valley, and the job description asks for someone within city limits.
"I'm not applying for this job because I love it," he says. "I'm applying because it's hard and I can do it. I think we can make a difference here, and it's a rare opportunity. It's as challenging a position as I can imagine." ♦
CORRECTION: The original version of this story misstated the amount spent on background investigations of the candidates. That number has been updated.