Road Rage Revision

Accused of attacking a grandmother, a young Ukrainian-American clears his name.

Yakov 'Yasha' Topik at the intersection where he first met Deborah Logsdon, a longtime Spokane County Jail corrections deputy. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
Yakov 'Yasha' Topik at the intersection where he first met Deborah Logsdon, a longtime Spokane County Jail corrections deputy.

It was Deborah Logsdon’s left middle finger that started it. And it was her right middle finger that finished it.

The first finger was flying out of her driver’s side window when Yakov Topik passed her at the intersection of Bridgeport Avenue and Ralph Street in north Spokane on Halloween 2009.

“I returned the gesture,” says Topik, 26, who goes by Yasha.

Minutes later, when Logsdon — a corrections deputy at Spokane County Jail — attempted to put Topik under citizen’s arrest on his own property, her other finger was dislocated, ending the scuffle and sending Topik, his brother and his girlfriend fleeing in different directions. Within a week, all three were arrested in connection with the incident, and Topik was charged with assault, robbery and unlawful imprisonment.

But two weeks ago, 12 Spokane County jurors exonerated him on all five counts, agreeing that he had acted in self-defense against Logsdon, and leaving all his legal fees and other expenses in prosecutors’ laps.

“Each juror got up and said ‘not guilty’ to every single charge,” he says. “It’s something you see in movies — it doesn’t really happen in real life. The foreigner always goes to jail.”

Topik and Logsdon first met in the early afternoon on that Halloween. Topik was swapping automobile engines in his family’s garage and Logsdon was driving her grandkids around to look at the spooky decorations.

Topik’s girlfriend at the time had stopped by, even though their relationship was on the rocks. Along with Topik’s brother, Sergey, they drove to Safeway for some snacks.

On the way back, Topik pulled up behind a silver sedan doing about 5 mph on a residential street, he says. The driver, Logsdon, stopped in the middle of the intersection, and Topik honked, waited and honked again. Then he passed on the left-hand side.

Logsdon, Topik says, started honking and flipping him off. He and his brother responded in kind. Topik drove another block or so to his family’s property — his home away from home, an empty lot with just a garage standing near the rear.

“I pulled over … and she pulled over at an angle behind me,” he says. “I got out of the car, and she started yelling, ‘What’s your problem?’ I said, ‘What the hell’s your problem?’ She said, ‘You passed me!’” “If you didn’t park in the middle of the f---ing intersection,” Topik recalls saying, “nobody would bother to pass your ass.”

Frank Cikutovich, Topik’s lawyer, adds: “He just snaps and calls [Logsdon] every name in the book. She’s not used to it. … She was a jail guard for 20 years. I got her to admit [on the stand] that she wasn’t used to people not following her orders.”

Out of her car, Topik says Logsdon told him that she worked in law enforcement and could park wherever she wanted. She told him she was going to report his license plate number to authorities. He stood in front of the plate, intentionally blocking it from her view.

“She flipped out and said, ‘Citizen’s arrest,’ and grabbed me,” he says. The two struggled for a minute or so before Topik freed himself. He was left with a torn shirt and a scratched neck. She had a dislocated finger.

She pulled out her phone and Topik says he panicked.

He slapped the phone away, tore off his front license plate and bent up the back one. He told his brother to take the car. Topik left for a friend’s house.

When police arrived, only Logsdon and her family remained. She told them her version.

Topik, his brother and his girlfriend got “angry at her slow pace of driving,” according to a court record prepared by Spokane police Detective Chet Gilmore. “The suspect vehicle blocked her car and forced her to stop. All three suspects … jumped out and confronted Deborah” on the side of the road.

She says she told them to leave twice before pulling out her cell phone to call 911, according to records. Topik grabbed it, “breaking her hand in the struggle.” Then they fled.

“Her finger was at a 45-degree angle when she went to the hospital,” says Larry Steinmetz, the Spokane County deputy prosecutor who tried the case. “She had three subsequent surgeries, and maybe a fourth.”

Two weeks later, Logsdon’s account made it into the Spokesman-Review, in an article headlined, “Grandmother attacked for driving too slow.”

“One man grabbed her phone before she could call 911, breaking her hand in front of her husband and grandchildren as he screamed at the family for driving too slowly,” the article began. “The other ripped the license plate off his own car in an apparent attempt to conceal his and the other attacker’s identities after cutting short the family’s leisurely drive to look at neighborhood Halloween decorations.”

Topik’s mother began to receive calls from her native Ukraine.

“As soon as the newspaper article came out, she’d get messages like, ‘What’s wrong with your kids? We feel so bad for you,’” Topik says. “Pretty much saying that we were horrible kids.”

With such publicity, Cikutovich was reluctant to take the case. “I told [Topik] and his family he had a 20 percent chance in his favor.”

The trial began in March and both Logsdon and Topik took the stand. Cikutovich says he was originally angry with Topik for seeming so unprepared before the jury. But afterward, some jurors told him that Topik appeared authentic. “They also said that [Logsdon] looked very ‘prepped.’” “In no way did I think he was going to walk on every count,” Cikutovich continues. “The jury agreed with us that he was completely overcharged. For two people just yelling at each other and a broken finger. … Literally, it’s just two idiots yelling at each other in the street.”

After they delivered their “not guilty” verdict, the judge asked jurors to go back and decide whether Topik had acted in self-defense, as he claimed. “This means,” jury instructions read, “that the issue is whether a reasonably prudent person, under the same or similar conditions existing at the time of the incident, would have used the same degree of force as the defendant.”

Ten of the 12 jurors agreed: Topik had acted appropriately. With that decision, prosecutors are on the hook for Topik’s legal bills, which amount to between $20,000 and $30,000, Cikutovich says.

Steinmetz, the prosecutor, says he isn’t sure why the jury made the decision it did. “I don’t know. I respect the jury’s process and their decision,” he says.

But what ended as a happy day for Topik is still marred by the effects of his arrest and his confrontation with Logsdon.

For one, after spending five days in jail in November 2009, he was kicked out of the diesel technician program at Spokane Community College and subsequently lost his financial aid. He just recently got the aid back and is on course to finish the same program within a year.

But his brother — Sergey, who has a criminal record — had previously accepted an agreement to plead guilty, getting a year and a day behind bars. He also consented to pay Logsdon’s medical bills, which add up to more than $30,000.

“My dad was really, really stressed out,” Yasha Topik says. “One of his sons is in jail. The other one might have gone to jail.”

It wasn’t exactly the future the Topiks — father, mother, three sons and a daughter — were seeking when they came to America in 1990, when Yasha was 5. In fact, it was the exact opposite.

“We pretty much ran away from the communists,” Topik says. The entire family became U.S. citizens in 1996. “They kicked us out and took our citizenship away. They told us if we didn’t leave by this date, they would imprison our entire family.”

Book-Talk Teasers

Wed., Aug. 4, 1-2 p.m. and Wed., Aug. 18, 1-2 p.m.
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About The Author

Nicholas Deshais

Nicholas Deshais is a former news editor and staff writer for The Inlander. He has reported on city, county and state politics, as well as medical marijuana, transportation and development. In May 2012, he was named as a finalist for the prestigious Livingston Award for an Inlander story about (now former) Assistant...