Posts Tagged ‘law enforcement’

Spokane City Council to Consider Law on Police Accountability

I received a message today from a friend on Facebook letting me know about a rally in Spokane to encourage the city council to enact stronger laws to ensure police accountability.  The Facebook page reads:

On May 17th the Spokane City Council will be voting on an ordinance to mandate that the Police Ombudsman conduct independent investigations and issue public reports about Spokane Police conduct. Right now, investigations are conducted by the Internal Affairs dept of the police.
Come urge City Council members to vote YES on this important step forward! Come join members of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, MEChA of EWU, SHAWL Society, Progressive Democrats, NAACP, NAMI, CORD, VOICES, Need to Know, Center for Justice, Eastern Washington Voters, and Odyssey Youth Center to support this ordinance.
Rally at 5p; City Council meeting at 6p.
More info: contact PJALS at 838-7870 or

After the death of Otto Zehm in Spokane  in 2006, I often think about the subject of police accountability.

Carl Maxey complained about a lack of police accountability in Spokane back in 1975. On May 17th the Spokane City Council will vote on a law to try to change the system.

(I have blogged about the subject here, here and here.)  The announcement I received today made me think of a book called Carl Maxey, a Fighting Life by Jim Kershner, a reporter for the Spokesman-Review.     As we know Maxey, a black lawyer from Spokane, was a champion of the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement before his death in 1997.  But he also was a strident advocate for police accountability in Spokane.   Maxey was perpetually frustrated by the subject.   After a coroner’s inquest justified the police shooting of a black teenager in the back, Maxey complained: “It’s apparent from this travesty that there must be a viable method or getting a full and complete investigation when a death is caused by a policeman.  At present, a citizen has no protection against the police.”  Thirty-five years later, Spokane still does not have sufficient independent over site of police misconduct.  The new proposed law before the city council would give the independent ombudsman greater authority by conducting independent investigations of police officer actions.

When I worked as a prosecutor I was often troubled by the lack of legitimate recourse citizens had when they felt aggrieved by police actions.  It seems like the only recourse is to go to a lawyer and sue.  And in that case it is usually the tax payer that loses out rather than the individual officer.  Last year I represented a Native-American man who was accused of assaulting a police officer in Spokane.  An independent witness came forward on the day of trial and testified that she looked out her window and saw what really happened.  She testified that my client did not assault the police officer, and in fact described instead what would be considered excessive force by the police.   Not surprisingly my client was acquitted.  However, he still has the scars from the use of the taser, and he missed a considerable amount of work due to the incident.  Like Maxey, my client is still waiting for a system to be created that provides for independent investigations into the use of force.

Let’s see what the Spokane City Council does later this month.  Check out the website of PJALS for more info on this subject.

Taser International Creates Video Cameras for Law Enforcement – But Do the Police Want Them?

Will police officers really agree to wearing video cameras?  I read in the business section of the Spokesman-Review last week that the company Taser International has introduced a new line of cameras for police officers.  taser-axon_1 Taser International, Inc. is, of course, best known for Taser guns, and has sold millions of such instruments for police officers world wide.  However, my guess is that these new cameras for police officers will be go over like a ton of bricks.  The article in the Spokesman explains:

Eighteen of San Jose’s more than 1,300 sworn officers have been trained to use the AXON head cameras as part of a free trial. Other departments are expected to be added to the program.  In San Jose, officers are required to switch on the cameras for even routine investigations, such as vehicle stops.  …  “People have been using (this technology) against us for years, unfortunately only for the bad stuff,” [Officer] Pender said. “So it’d be nice to show our view and our side of what’s going on.” In San Jose, officers are required to switch on the cameras for even routine investigations, such as vehicle stops. At the end of an officer’s shift, the device is placed in a docking station, where it recharges and its content is downloaded and stored on a secure server off site.

The truth is that these sort of cameras are not very popular with police officers or their departments.  As you can see from the photo above, the camera wraps around the ear and sits over the officer’s shoulder.   So it is like literally having someone looking over your shoulder.  And “that someone” is the top brass, the defense lawyers, the tort lawyers, the ACLU, the media, and the general public once the footage gets on TV.  Video evidence provides powerful graphic images that a jury can later see.  It is one thing for a witness or victim of police abuse to say what occurred, but another thing entirely for disturbing video footage to be presented.   While it is widely assumed that having a camera rolling would mean that the police would be on their best behavior, this is not the case.  Often times the officer subjectively believes he or she is acting appropriately at the time, but the video often show otherwise.  Youtube is full of videos of police officers improperly handling suspects while a dash cam is rolling.

Police officers generally don’t like to be recorded.   In the case of State v. Flora, a police officer went so far as to arrest a man who secretly audio-recorded him speaking.  The Washington State Court of Appeals held that the suspect was entitled to make such a recording due to the public nature of the encounter.  Can people really imagine the police of Spokane County, Grant County, Stevens County etc. wearing these things?

Although the salespeople with Taser Internations are trying to market the recording equipment as popular with police, it is not the police who will like them.  Until now, the greatest proponents of requiring the police to record suspect contacts have been civil libertarians.  See support from National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Justice Project, and ACLU.  The other proponents of requiring the recordings are defense lawyer bloggers.  See blog posts: Grits for Breakfast,, and Law and More.

The ACLU for years has been critical of the Taser gun (see here).  Does anyone else see the irony of Taser Inc. trying to make a buck off something the ACLU supports?

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals just greatly limited the use of the Taser gun last week. (See here).  Since I read about this new line of Taser products in the business section of the newspaper, let me offer this financial advice:  The Taser cam won’t sell.  Now is the time to dump your Taser stock.

Upcoming Poll on Potential Sheriff Candidates for 2010 Election

On June 8th, I will be posting a poll to gauge what the public might be looking for in a Sheriff candidate next year in Ferry County.   Who do you think might be a good candidate?   As of now, I am going to post Pete Warner, Tom Williams, and Bret Roberts.   I don’t know what plans they might have on whether or not to run, but those are the three individuals in the area that have run for Sheriff in the past and are still employed in law enforcement.   Does anyone have any other suggestions for anybody else who should run, or should be included in this poll?   Have your suggestions in by the 5th.

Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 252-9167
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