by Kevin Taylor and Doug Nadvornick & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & o what parallel universe would you be in if you fell off your bike and nobody believed that's how you got a shiner because, you see, there were these white-hot rumors that said you really got into a fight with a male prostitute in a seedy riverside park?

That would put you in Jack Lynch World. The 58-year-old deputy mayor has been under a toxic cloud of suspicion for five months after Spokane media began running stories in late September that his car was spotted by police at High Bridge Park, that the park is known for lewd conduct, that he turned up at a City Council meeting with a black eye and that he then vanished on

medical leave without explanation.

Connect the dots, as one local editor told readers.

Except that now it appears there were no dots to connect. Documents released by Lynch's attorney last week show that Spokane police and a Superior Court judge concluded that the rumors about Lynch were, "false, totally false ... and it's downright gossip," as the judge put it in her ruling. But some in the local media aren't convinced.

Spokesman-Review Editor Steve Smith did not answer specific questions e-mailed to him about their initial source on the story, but did say in a reply that, "We stand by our reporting, without qualification, from the first story to the last. No apologies."

Noah Cooper, executive news director at KREM, says he still has questions he'd like to see answered about Lynch and defends his station's reporting as fair-game pursuit of what a public official is doing on the public dime.

Judge Maryann Moreno made her decision Feb. 9 in a public records lawsuit brought by The Spokesman-Review against the city seeking release of a 15-page internal affairs report on whether police had contact with Lynch at High Bridge Park. Moreno agreed the document was public, but she also cited Washington case law (to support an exemption sought by the city) that "the public has no legitimate interest in reading or hearing about individuals who have been falsely accused.

"If the deputy mayor wants to clear the air, it's his right to do so," Moreno added, indicating only Lynch could release the report.

Through his attorney, Jim King, that's what Lynch did last week. The atmosphere of suspicion was so caustic that even this was greeted with questions in news accounts: How did Lynch get a copy of the report?

Well, since it was about him, Lynch was given a copy to review, King says.

The report itself was generated by calls the Spokesman-Review's reporters (and, later, KREM's) made to Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession and to interim police chief Jim Nicks on Aug. 31 saying they had been tipped that Lynch was seen with a male prostitute at High Bridge Park and was either stopped by police or had his plates run during the late night/early morning of Aug. 26/27. The KREM version of the rumor had Nicks catching wind of the episode and "quashing" a resulting internal affairs investigation.

Lynch told The Inlander in September that he felt violated by the inquiry -- calling the rumors insulting and false -- and expressed anger at both the Spokesman-Review and City Hall.

Lynch has not responded to repeated requests for interviews during the past month. His silence has only added to the sense of suspicion. He has never offered an explanation to other media, choosing instead to berate the coverage.

A co-worker says Lynch was so blind-sided by the rumors -- and that they were so salacious -- that he was unable to respond.

"I think he absolutely was stunned," says Gavin Cooley, the city's chief financial officer and a vocal Lynch defender. "When you are accused of something that far out of bounds, it's like, 'Have you stopped beating your wife?' How do you respond to that without making it worse?"

Former police chief Roger Bragdon was on the selection committee that hired Lynch in 2001. "As I remember, his background was impeccable -- a very honest man and tremendously skilled."

Citing near-constant turmoil in the John Powers and Jim West administrations, Bragdon says, "It was Jack Lynch who held everything together. He's been injured badly by this."

Media accounts frequently mention Lynch is on "unexplained medical leave." Lynch is still on leave until March 1.

The Inlander was unable to reach Hession by deadline to ask if Lynch still has a job or if he has indicated he intends to return. Others inside City Hall, including members of the City Council, don't expect Lynch to return.

In September, Lynch told The Inlander he was under doctor's orders to take leave. He has stents in his heart after cardiac problems four years ago, Lynch said, and was so angry and obsessed at what he perceived as an attack on him and his family that his doctor warned him his health would suffer if he didn't get away. Cooley thinks there are similar health issues behind the January leave and its extension through this month.

"I look around me, and it's surreal -- Jack's not here, and it's hard to imagine him ever coming back. Jack has absolutely been maligned. It wouldn't surprise me if the Lynch family leaves Spokane," Cooley says.

Cooley has had a letter published in the Spokesman-Review criticizing the paper's coverage of Lynch, but says he values a community with a locally owned paper and adds, "I have no problem with the reporters -- any of them. Their job is to get out and write stories. There is a gatekeeper function that it is the job of the editors to screen the stories."

A wave of readers responded to the Lynch stories at the Spokesman Review's "News is a Conversation" blog, some hailing the aggressive reporting but most expressing concerns the stories were tilted too much to innuendo and less to actual wrongdoing. Smith has told critics there was more to the story than they knew and that the information was coming from "highly placed credible and responsible sources in law enforcement and within city hall..."

But the paper's last headline -- "Officers started Lynch rumors" -- frosted Nicks and other police officers, who took it to mean the S-R was pinning the whole thing on gossipy cops. Two officers are named in the internal affairs report as engaging in apparent end-of-shift banter about surprising names that popped up during license plate checks.

"It wasn't any officer who made this part of the Spokane rumor mill -- it was the newspaper when they printed it on the front page," Nicks says.

Still, questions linger about how such a damaging story was sent to local media. Many are wondering whether it was an honest mistake, or if somebody planted the rumor maliciously to hurt Lynch for some reason.

The police document shows internal affairs investigators Lt. David Richards and Sgt. James Faddis worked quickly to run down the rumors and, when the tips about Aug. 26/27 didn't pan out, widened the search to cover two years and all four rigs registered to Lynch.

No late-night sightings came up, but two other hits were recorded last August: A black Ford Expedition registered to Lynch was recorded as parked in High Bridge Park at 4 pm on Aug. 11. A white Ford Expedition registered to Lynch was recorded as driving through the park during the lunch hour of Aug. 18. Lynch was apparently not the driver either time.

The plates were run as a matter of routine by officers who were scouting the park as part of an increased police presence ordered by Lynch after the Spokesman published a July story detailing drug use and public sex there.

Lt. Richards concluded an affidavit on this note: "While I do believe it is important to monitor and investigate allegations of wrongdoing by public employees, specifically police, I do believe that in this instance the SPD was used as a tool to further an agenda of disseminating inflammatory information about Mr. Lynch that isn't correct or factual."

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