Posts Tagged ‘Spokane’

Oops — Arnold Schwarzenegger Spaces Deadline, Rape Suspect Released

When federal agents show up to arrest someone on a 3-million-dollar warrant, you figure that person won’t be seen for a while.   Not the case with Brian Lee Hudson.  He was arrested at a Spokane homeless shelter, yet returned a week later.  According to a story in the Spokesman-Review, Hudson “was set free when he made his first appearance in Spokane County Superior Court because necessary paperwork hadn’t arrived from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office in Sacramento, Calif.”

I suppose it is helpful to have a good criminal defense lawyer, but sometimes defendants simply catch a break because they are lucky.  (I guess the unlucky party would be the public.)  According to the article, the suspect surprisingly went back to the same homeless shelter after he was released.  You would think that he would have hit the road and tried to hide out.  These extradition cases are a real pain in the butt for prosecutors to deal with.  A lot of people are surprised by this, but unless a defendant waives his right to extradition, a state really needs a warrant signed by the governor in order to return a fugitive to face charges.  I can remember as a prosecutor how the State of California was pretty bad about follow up on these things.   It seemed like the parole officers would always claim that they would want to extradite a fugitive, but after Washington would hold them for a few weeks, California would change its mind.  A lot of times a defense lawyer will advise his or her client to waive extradition to expedite the process.  Usually extradition among the 50 states is inevitable; it is not like extradition issues between countries.  A lot of people are not aware of it, but many Indian Tribes have extradition laws as well.  For example, the Colville Tribes have a policy codified here.  The county jurisdictions should not be bringing tribal members to State courts without the approval of the Tribal Court.  Most countries do not have extradition policies or restrictions within their boundaries.  The interstate extradition issues as faced in Brian Hudson’s case are a result of States’ rights here in the U.S.   Lately, in Washington and Idaho, conservatives have been championing the notion of State sovereignty.   My guess is that the interstate extradition laws will probably be reformed avoid problems such as what happened with Brian Hudson.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Continues to Speak Out on Questionable Robbery Conviction in Spokane

I have never met the guy, but you have to hand it to defense attorney David Partovi for the tenacious defense of his client Tyler Gassman.  Partovi went down swinging in Gassman’s defense last year on a questionable robbery conviction, and is continuing the fight.  Partovi has lodged a bar complaint against the Spokane prosecutor, agreed to interviews with the press, filed appeals, and has even taken the unusual step of commenting on the newspaper articles in the online comment section.  He even got the Spokane prosecutor personally fined for $8,000.  (Ouch!  Giuliano Mignini anyone?)  According to news reports, Partovi even wept at sentencing for Gassman.  As a result, the amount of people taking notice of this case is beginning to grow.  The most recent person to take notice is Jacob H. Fries, the managing editor of The Inlander.  Fries is no stranger to writing crime stories, having covered such matters for the New York Times and The Boston Globe.  Now the Spokane native is covering injustices in Spokane.  See his recent piece on Gassman’s case hereThe Inlander apparently is doing a series on unjust convictions in Eastern Washington, and lists a contact number on their site for people to submit ideas.

Here is what all the fuss is about.  The Spokane prosecutors had a rock solid case against a robbery suspect, and let him go with a slap on the wrist in exchange for pointing fingers at seemingly anyone he chose, including Tyler Gassman. You really have to wonder about this business of “buying” the testimony of criminals with promises of leniency.  If it is a crime to bribe a witness with cash in exchange for his testimony, how is it any better when a prosecutor “bribes” the witness by offering him or her freedom?  In 2002 the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled: “If justice is perverted when a criminal defendant seeks to buy testimony from a witness, it is no less perverted when the government does so.”  Such squeal deals seemed like they would be prohibited.  However, the court overturned itself 9 days later, and prosecuting attorneys continue to troll the local jails looking to make bargains for testimony with inmates desperate for their freedom.  And that is essentially what David Partovi faced when Matt Dunham agreed to point his finger at Tyler Gassman and other Spokane locals.  Serving as Tyler Gassman’s criminal defense lawyer, Partovi sought to impeach the credibility of Dunham at trial.  Dunham’s cellmate told the defense lawyer that Dunham was making it all up to save himself, but the cellmate refused to testify.  (A criminal defense lawyer, unlike a prosecutor, can’t agree to give witnesses immunity).   After Tyler Gassman was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for allegedly robbing drug dealers, the cellmate (Anthony Kongchunji) finally agreed to come forward.  Sounds like good grounds for a new trial right?  Spokane Superior Court Judge Michael Price didn’t think so.  He ruled that the defense lawyer erred by not hauling Kongchunji up to be made to forcibly testify.  Huh?  Doesn’t someone pretty much always have the right to take the fifth if they think they are going to incriminate themselves?   Apparently a police detective subtly (or not so subtly) implied that the cellmate could be facing perjury charges if he testified for the defense.  That could give any witness cold feet.

Right now, the case is on appeal.  We will wait and see.   Let’s ask Spokane prosecutor candidates what they think about this case?  Attorney David Stevens has announced his candidacy, as well as attorney Frank Malone.  Someone please ambush them at candidate’s night and let us know what they say.  Somehow, I have a feeling David Partovi will be in the front row with his hand up.

Shouldn’t prosecutor’s offices have some sort of written policy on offering leniency in plea negotiations in exchange for testimony?  What do you think?

(Photo does not depict any actual participants in this case.)

Spokane Defendant Who Rejected Lawyer's Advice Beats Death Penalty

You would think that if you were facing a charge as serious as capital murder, you would want to listen to your attorneys.   Well, in the Spokane murder case of State v. Christopher Devlin, the defendant apparently rejected the advice of his lawyers and beat the death penalty anyway.   Devlin is accused of murdering a witness who was expected to testify against him in an earlier assault case.  Devlin rejected the advice of his lawyer and refused to waive the thirty day notice required to seek the death penalty.  A defense lawyer will often seek to waive this to have more time to prepare a defense to the death penalty.  The State did not turn over their evidence in time, and the judge dismissed the death penalty allegation as a sanction on the prosecuting attorney.  See story.  The charge of aggravated murder still stands, and the defendant could still face a possibility of life in prison.  How does a defendant educate themselves on how to defeat a death penalty charge?  A grad-student from Massachusetts has published an online guide on eHow.com of all places.  See site.

Anyway, I am sure the defense lawyers breathed a sigh of relief when the death penalty allegation was dropped.  And it may be the case that the prosecutors breathed a sigh of relief too.  It was never really clear whether the alleged offense took place in Stevens County or Spokane County, and neither county wanted to bear the incredible expense of conducting a death penalty case.  See news segment below. The Stevens County Prosecuting Attorney, facing budget problems, flat out stated that he did not want the case. The defense lawyers wanted it moved out of Spokane.

Post by Steve Graham, Defense Lawyer.

Attorney for City of Spokane Faces Criticism in Handling of Zehm Suit.

The Spokesman-Review  ran a story Thursday raising questions about the way an attorney for the city, Rocky Treppiedi, has gone about defending the lawsuit filed by the relatives of Otto Zehm.    The attorney is defending the city of Spokane from a lawsuit filed by the relatives, while at the same time federal prosecutors are investigating and prosecuting Officer Karl Thompson who was involved in the death of Zehm.  (See earlier related blog post).    The Spokesman-Review reported that Treppiedi has been accused of “gleaning information from police and civilian witnesses called to testify before the federal grand jury and then [feeding] that information to  Thompson….”   And that this occurred even after the Spokane Police Chief imposed a gag order on her employees.   Treppiedi is not a police department employee.  At this time, it is not entirely clear how this was inappropriate.  The city attorneys will have a chance to respond in writing to this allegation, which was apparently brought by an attorney in the criminal case.  The attorney has been accused of taking a heavy-handed approach to defending the city, and the Otto Zehm case raises interesting questions of what a city attorney’s job is when defending allegations of police misconduct.  Creates a legal pleading

While I understand the charges against the police, I don’t understand how the city attorney has come under so much fire.   When government employees mess up, even in a big and public way, it is still the city’s job to try to defend the matter.   After the city was sued, the city filed a formal response to the suit as required by law.  The response took the position that the officers’ response and their use of force was justified by the actions of Otto Zehm on the night in question.  The Spokesman-Review reported on this in a story entitled: “Zehm to blame for fight with officers, city says”.   The story explains how the Treppiedi’s response took the position that any use of force against Zehm was justified because Zehm resisted arrest.  When I read this at the time it seemed like the city attorney was just doing his job.  It is his job to defend the actions taken by the officers on that night in question, and he is really just the messenger.  Attorneys have clients to defend.  For some reasons this seems to be better understood by the public when an attorney is representing a person accused of a crime, rather than a governmental agency in a civil suit.

Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple criticized the way that the city defended the Zehm lawsuit.  (Listen to interview.)  He described the city’s position as an attitude of basically, ‘We’re not responsible and this life [Zehm’s] isn’t worth anything.”   He is correct that the city is denying responsibility, but when I read the entire response the city filed, I did not see the city attorney say or even suggest that Otto Zehm’s life was not worth anything.

I saw a letter to the editor Friday from Karen Dorn Steele, a former reporter for the Spokesman.   She criticizes Treppiedi, and complains about a lot of things he has done in the past that she does not like.  Fair enough.  But then she writes: “A city attorney is supposed to represent the public interest, not a few rogue elements of the police department.”   Unfortunately, the city attorney has to do both.  He has to vigorously take the position that the police acted reasonably, and the other side takes the position that the police did not.  And then the jury makes the decision.  In this case, it would not surprise me if the city is found to be liable for a million dollars or more.   But if the city is to be found liable, the public needs to know that the city did its best to minimize the damage.  You would hope that when a person is harmed by the government that the government would try to resolve this outside of court for fair compensation.  However, these discussions are rarely made public, so it is really hard to say if the city is playing hardball in this case.

Relations between the city attorney and the Spokesman-Review are not helped by the fact that Treppiedi once referred to the paper as the “local fishwrap”.  See story.   The city attorney made this statement in an email to Mayor Jim West when West faced a scandal involving sex with a high school  student.  Treppiedi told West: “Mr. Mayor – hang in there – the local fishwrap is out to sell papers, and you’re out to serve citizens.”  While it is a city attorney’s job to defend the actions by city employees, it is also his or her job to try to prevent any misconduct from happening again, and to minimize damage.    A city attorney’s job is to tell the city bluntly how the employee messed up and to work with city leaders how to prevent the problem from happening again.  But again, this is all out of public view.  I guess in the instance of his email to West, the city attorney may have been better off telling West to resign, or at least saying nothing.

I once had the chance to assist in defending a government from allegations of police misconduct.  The lawyer from the insurance company (who was paid buy the hour) did not want to tell the police the truth about how they messed up, and did not want to make any settlement offer at all.  This made him very popular with the police, but actually did the police a disservice by not helping them learn from their mistake.  I let the insurance company know how I felt.

I hope that the public doesn’t forget about the broader issues of police accountability.  Sometimes there is a highly publicized excessive force case, and people forget about the smaller cases.  Rodney King, for example, was assaulted by the police,  and received a settlement of 3.8 million.  But I am sure there were less sensational cases of police abuse where the victims could not even find an attorney, much less receive compensation.  The public deserves a police ombudsman with sufficient powers to curtail the problem.

On Monday, I did a jury trial in Spokane where a man was accused of assaulting a police officer.   The police officer tazed my client several times.  Under the police guidelines, an officer cannot use the taser unless facing “assaultive” conduct.  I suspected the police alleged that the “assault” occurred in order to justify (after the fact) the amount of force that the police used on him.  The officer testified well and seemed very credible.  The next day an independent witness came forward and stated that, unbeknownst to the officer, she had witnessed the whole incident through  her blinds.  She did not see the defendant assault the officer, and the jury believed her.

Spokane Law Enforcement Rally Behind Officer Karl Thompson

I noticed in my years working as a prosecuting attorney that police officers often had a rather black-and-white view of the world.  It was good versus evil, with not a lot of in between.  They did not seem to wonder too often if a person charged was truly guilty – it was usually assumed.   I don’t think I ever heard it questioned whether a defendant was receiving a fair trial, or if the media was giving the accused a fair shake.  Then, on June 22nd, 2009, it was announced that Office Karl F. Thompson was being charged in federal court with two felonies related to the death of Otto Zehm, the mentally disabled janitor the police beat and tased at Zip-Trip while he bought a soda on March 20th, 2009.   As that indictment was handed down, I kind of wondered what response the police community would have to Karl Thompson’s indictment.  Would they explain his actions away as those of one bad apple, or would they rally in his defense?

THOMPSON PICWell, I received my answer this week when I noticed online that Karl Thompson’s supporters had created a Face Book “fan page” for him.   The page promotes the sale of bracelets for $10 each.  The page blames the media for making Karl Thompson a “media scapegoat,” but then writes: “Thanks to the story in the Spokesman-Review, demand for the wristbands has increased.”  As of today, the page had almost 230 fans.

See news story about indictment:

I will continue to follow the case of U.S. v. Karl Thompson, as well as the civil suit the family of Otto Zehm as brought against Karl Thompson and the City of Spokane.   The Center of Justice in Spokane has a website about Otto Zehm. A central issue in both the civil case and the criminal case will be Thompson’s compliance with Spokane County’s use of force policy. The policy authorizes varying level of force depending on the threat that the police encounter. Creates a legal pleading

When interviewed by police officials, Karl Thompson admitted that Otto Zehm did not try to strike him, but explained that Zehm refused to drop the plastic bottle of soda he was carrying. Thompson stated that he feared the two-liter bottle could be used as a weapon.  When interviewed, Thompson explained that the learning-disabled Zehm responded “why?” when Thompson told him to drop his soda.  Thompson explained that he struck Zehm first in the leg with the police baton trying to knock him to the ground. The store video in Zip Trip is partially obscured by the store shelves but it shows the officer standing over Zehm from behind.

18-Year-Old Candidate Loses Spokane City Council Race

I had high hopes for Greg Ridgley, the 18-year-old Spokane city council candidate.   He was young, nervy, and full of new ideas for the Lilac City.  And lets face it, he would have provided lots of things to blog about.   I wrote about him last month here.  At 11:05 a.m. an individual named “bonzai” posted a comment on that article predicting: “Today is judgment day for young Mr. Ridgley. I bet he gets only 3 or 4% of the vote in today’s primary.”

Well, right you were, the results were released at 8:00 p.m. by the Secretary of State, and Mr. Ridgley only received 3.34% of the vote.  Mr. bonzai made a good prediction.  The results of the election are here.

The 3.34% that Ridgley received was way lower than lawyer Steven Eugster received at 16%, and he ran for election after having been suspended from the state bar.   Eugster was known for suing the city of Spokane.    Ridgley, did however, soundly beat (by a 3-2) margin David Elton, a candidate for city council who recently was arrested for threatening to kill the council president, according to news stories.  Maybe that was the problem – the protest vote was split this year.  If you are really fed up with city government, do you vote for:  1) an attorney that sues the city,  2) a man who allegedly threatens to kill city officials, or 3) do you vote for an 18-year-old out of protest?

Maybe the protest chic of voting in an 18-year-old has worn off.  18-year-olds can and do win election races, according to news stories.   But I started to worry about Greg Ridgley’s chances when he never really developed a strong internet campaign.  It seems if you are young, you at least have to use the medium that favors your demographic.  Also, when I would travel to Spokane for court, I really didn’t see his campaign signs up.  He made a lot of campaign appearances, and I am sure he really got a lot of public speaking experience.  He seems to be taking the election loss in stride.  His latest posting on Facebook is “Greg went all in and lost in Texas Hold ‘Em Poker.”

Indeed you did Mr. Ridgley.  We hope to see you again.

What Washington public works projects will be still standing in AD 4000?

My father was an engineer. He always marveled at how many bridges and aqueducts of the Roman Empire are still left standing. But he was perplexed at how many public works projects here in the U.S. are just disasters.

The Pont du Gard aqueduct was built by the Romans in approximately 19 BC.  It still stands today.

The Pont du Gard aqueduct was built by the Romans in approximately 19 BC. It still stands today.

But what Washington public works projects will last as long as the Pont du Gard?

This question came to mind when I started seeing a bunch of new public works projects in this area. I heard the federal government was assisting in some projects as part of an economic stimulus bill. I remember when the City of Republic had a new shop built ten years ago. It collapsed soon after it was built under the weight of a heavy snow fall. I also noticed how the newly constructed front steps of the court house have begun to crumble and have been roped off.
In Spokane in 2006 the River Park Square parking garage crumbled and allowed a vehicle to roll out and fall five stories to the ground killing someone.
What is to be done about the slipshod work of construction companies on public works projects? What public works disasters am I over looking in the area of Okanogan, Ferry, and Stevens County? Email any photos that you think I should post to steve@grahamdefense.com.

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Photo of Steve Graham Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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