It might seem like this is a relatively sleepy election, but there's one race we all need to study: Spokane County Prosecutor. Most people here don't even know what an elected prosecuting attorney should do, because we haven't really seen one for 16 years.
By laying low and wearing a big "R" on his chest every election year, Steve Tucker won four terms. In most counties, the prosecutor is viewed as a community leader, loudly standing up for victims and prosecuting wrongdoing without fear or favor. The prosecutor is supposed to be the people's lawyer. Not here, apparently.
Remember Robert Lee Yates, the Spokane serial killer? Tucker fought prosecutors from Western Washington, pushing for a more lenient plea deal — a common feature of the Tucker tenure. How about 74-year-old Pastor Wayne Creach, who was shot dead by a sheriff's deputy on his own property? Tucker ruled the shooting "reasonable and justified." Still, Spokane County paid the Creach family $2 million. Otto Zehm? Again, Tucker saw nothing wrong with how the police behaved. The United States Department of Justice disagreed and imposed martial law on Tucker's turf, leading to the conviction of Karl Thompson and — finally — justice for Zehm and his family.
Regarding the recent murder at the STA Plaza, prosecutors failed to file paperwork in time to keep Donald Phillips off the street. Tucker also plea-bargained a case in which Jason Hart not only murdered his girlfriend, Regan Jolley, but tried to dispose of her body in acid. (Now that's a crime deserving of a full prosecution.) When Tucker's deputy Marriya Wright was allegedly caught texting and transporting wanted felon Matthew Baumrucker, the explanation from Tucker was... complete silence.
Finally, when Tucker let minor Preston Maher off with just 60 days for causing the death of Josie Freier and McKenzie Mott — a sentence an adult might get for unpaid traffic tickets — Josie's father, Rick, reported that Tucker could not name his daughter.
With Tucker retiring, Spokane gets a shot at change — a chance at a more accountable and effective justice system. But beware: Larry Haskell, a deputy in Tucker's office, is the status quo candidate. His supporters — police unions, prosecutor's office staff — seem fine with the Tucker way.
Spokane finally has a solid alternative who is much more than "anyone but Tucker." Breean Beggs has been advocating for smart justice for years. He helped develop the new municipal court and is already looking at alternatives to a $200 million jail. As you study the choices, keep the Tucker years in mind: Spokane needs its next prosecutor to do just the opposite. ♦